August 9, 2017
North Carolina’s downtempo psych-hop act, Dirty Art Club, has resurfaced to release the Basement Séance, a follow up from 2013’s Vermillion. Although DAC has been known as a duo in the past, Madwreck (John McKeiver) left the band in 2015 to pursue other adventures. McKeiver’s work and influence can still be found on a few of the songs throughout the album, however the primary man behind DAC is Matt Cagle. What makes Basement Séance spectacular, besides the curated samples and flow of perspective, is that the core member fought through a medical condition called anhedonia, during which his emotional attachment and resonance with music was temporarily compromised. In the two-year recording process of the album Cagle admits, “I’d lost all hope in my ability to inject something more essential than drums, effects, and supplemental noise into samples.” To overcome this disability, Cagle put his faith into the creativity and magic of music for its natural ability to connect and heal, but there’s no sense of triumph garnered from the finality of releasing the new album.
The impressive 23-track album is dense with obscure samples running the artistic gamut, starting with Jefferson Handkerchief’s 1967 psych-folk single, “I’m Allergic to Flowers” where DAC parts the curtains of the original song’s galloping beats to reveal a lush rabbit-hole entryway into the remainder of the album. DAC’s use of multiple genre samples and psychedelic flourishes make the album timeless and abstract, accessible and thoughtful.
Basement Séance is atmospheric and distant, while still tethered to specifics like a certain moment in time within questionable parallels of what time actually is. When a band releases new material, it’s often asked of them what comes first, the lyrics or the melody. For DAC and the samples they use, Cagle is faced with recycling old into new while communicating his own artistic perspective. “The scenes I imagine are almost always inspired by my impression of the samples I’m using, and that often dictates how I actually use them. Sometimes, I’ll put something together with multiple layers and separate parts using a bunch of different samples, if it constructs a sound that illustrates the scene in mind. Or, I might just loop something and add the basics, if that’s the best way to get the point across. Either way, I’ll put a month into finding subliminal background noise.”
In terms of whether the detailed, warm overtones and definition of DAC’s recorded products translates during a live performance, Cagle says that’s always a concern, but, “I guess hardly anything sounds the same live, and I think most people understand. I reshape the mixes for a clearer sound when I’m arranging songs for a set, and I keep the live additions simple to help maintain the original sound. There’s a lot going on in the way each album is mixed- never high quality or anything, but the mix is important to the feel. I try to keep as much of that as I can.”
The album is a slinky saunter underneath the night’s slow-blinking, languid city lights. The trailing dew drop of keys inlaid within the tracks evokes the vintage, rainy smell of shiny black vinyl. The sounds drip pensively, folding together a looming, shuffling bass line and spinning guitar strolls with soulful sweetness. The lounging ease of the album carves out time and suspends the listener in a cocoon, disconnected and above any present physical state. Ghosts float by in segued samples of greetings and exclamations from forgotten televisions shows. Memories that aren’t yours reach out, softly asking “Do remember when?”, but those abstractions fade, collapsing on top of sharp minor chords and replaced with the enduring, scraping drumbeat of the haunted human heart.
A lot of the “suspended in space” feeling and imagery are represented on Basement Séance’s album artwork, created by collage aficionado, Bryan Olson. The art shows a solitary headless, religiously-robed upper torso holding up the sun while skeletal figures on dark, foreboding hills casually turn to look over their shoulders at ancient tombstones, adding what seems to be a sly spin to the Book of Genesis’ story of Lot’s wife. Two women play in the top right corner, the epitome of youth, vigor, and beauty standards, a sharp contrast to the large protruding skull in the left corner. Cagle says that finding a united synergy between DAC’s sound and visuals have never been a problem, especially when working with Olson. “Not a lot needed to be said. When Bryan was working on art for the new album, we only discussed some of the basic characteristics I associated with it, and he somehow created exactly what I had in mind. I don’t think I know how to define what makes that complementary match between visual art and music, though…maybe it has something to do with similar patterns or the recognition of some sort of intention.”
Although it’s been four years since DAC’s last release, Cagle admit he’s still unresolved about the final product, adding “I still don’t feel like it’s actually done, which is kinda weird. I woke up a few nights ago with an idea for it.” What I’ve found to be the case is that any good artwork is never fully done; it’s innate within an artist to always refine, always push, and always find more beauty.
There is something dangerously brooding and sulfuric in Basement Séance but equally, there is a luxurious undertone that begins to bloom, like the ancient way a volcanic eruption cultivates new life in the dark richness of chaotic aftermath.