The former Duchampion guitarist's latest is a richly intimate song cycle about "being in love, old American music, and Jesus."
New Song, the third and final release of the year by former Duchampion guitarist Ben Seretan, takes the form of a song cycle "about being in love, old American music, and Jesus". Or so says Seretan, who has steadily honed his six-string craft in Greenpoint studios and Portland garages since launching a solo career in 2011. There's more: "the feeling of living in multiple time periods at once, the guitar as if it grew out of the earth like a root vegetable, my voice like it fell sun ripened from a tree." Weighty stuff, but the Americana imagery falls into place on Seretan's effortlessly expansive ramble through "In the Pines" – a revelation whether your reference point is the Leadbelly rendition or the Nirvana cover (renamed "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?").
Recorded live – sans overdubs – in a single afternoon during a summer residency in Wassaic, NY, New Song sculpts textured intimacy from isolation. Originals "Pretty One" and "My One True Love" are highlights, tempering Seretan's cavernous whine between swelling arpeggios and virtuosic finger-picking. The former is expansive and full of longing; the latter affirms the record's fixation with Americana in its sing-songy vocal pattern, its rustic imagery (the song is dedicated to a horse running up a hill), and its trembling resolution: "There / On that other shore / My one true love." Seretan's playing is technically rich but emotive, and the low notes rattle and bend, producing the sort of imperfect, booming vibrations a Sunn Scepter amp should release in an upstate cattle barn.
"In The Sweet By & By" is the wild card, a largely stable boombox drone whose length (47:58) far exceeds the rest of the album combined. Seretan played a drone into a boombox recording onto cassette tape, resulting in accidental warping. The result is a tension between physical and digital media, soundtracking Seretan's "half-hearted attempt at depicting a reverie of the afterlife." Without that conceptual grounding, of course, it is simply a 48-minute drone. That, too, is enough.