Music

Clint, Michigan [Brooklyn, NY]

Photos by Philipp Mohr

After witnessing the genesis of Clint, Michigan's intimate music firsthand, the honesty of its translation to the recording studio has one PopMatters writer expanding his cherished memories.


Clint, Michigan

Hawthorne to Hennepin

Display Artist: Clint, Michigan
Label: Kiam Records
US Release Date: 2009-04-19
Amazon
Amazon
iTunes

Just to say it right at the start, I've been fortunate to have a friendly and very cherished proximity to Clint Asay and Amy Benezuartea, the two principles behind Clint, Michigan, for the past several years. At first I thought this should disqualify me from writing about them, but now I don't think so. While originally a tangential relationship through common music friends in Brooklyn, we became much closer for having shared a 10-seater passenger van and 4-to-a-room hotels over the course of a two-week tour.

They were the opening act on a three-band bill that I was a part of, starting at 2007's CMJ Festival at New York's Living Room and traveling through Minneapolis, St. Louis, and Athens, among other cities, before finishing up as the early show at Maxwell's in Hoboken, a short ride through the tunnel from where we started. Assay and Benezuartea were playing as a duo, switching between banjo and acoustic guitars, mixing in harmonica and harmonizing together beautifully for their entire set. At that point, every song was still new to me, and getting to hear them nightly, performed in front of audiences ranging in size from what memory serves as an empty bar in Nashville to considerably less than empty at Chicago's Hideout, is a cherished musical memory.

This was all before they'd made any real progress on the recordings that would become their first album, Hawthorne to Hennepin. The songs were all in place, but you could still hear them developing from night to night. Having witnessed those performances, I felt developing a record from them seemed like a dicey proposition. How would they attempt to put across on a recording these songs that seemed to be so perfectly pitched when delivered by just two people playing together to a (hopefully) quiet club that might hold 75 people on its best night? The whole impermanence of the thing seemed to be entirely part of the point. Why risk it to the harsh imperfections and learning curves inherent to the recording studio? Why run the risk of capturing a less than wholly perfect representation of the song, for no better reason than simply trying to get a record out?

Happily, the album succeeds. None of the magic of that early string of performances that I loved so much is lost. Adding piano, drums, accordion, ukulele, strings, mandolin, and layered harmonies, the songs only gain in translation. On paper, with hushed vocals, a preference for acoustic instruments over electric ones, and songs favoring emotions that feel closer to heartbreak than contentment, Hawthorne to Hennepin seems to fit in somewhat easily with a number of other releases that crowd these stylistic waters. But where it stands out, where any album really starts to stands out, is with songs that display an attention to trying to be good, as opposed to just done, and that make a concerted effort to preserve and put across the thing about them that makes them feel honest.

I can't count the number of times I've come back to a line like “It appears my ears will listen when my feet remain in place” and been turned around by the frantic anxiety that so many people seem to have -- or at least to want to express, or relate to -- but that a few manage to turn into a calmer grace, as if through some kind of unseen drive to stay alive when so many other things are compelling you to do otherwise. It's not even the quality of the lyric, in this case, as it is its ability to get to the point. That song it comes from, “Basements of Churches”, is a first-person recounting of experiences at an addiction recovery support group meeting. When the narrator exchanges a knowing look with the old man with the old sayings, the only other character we're introduced to, it's all we need to set the scene. We become alert to all of the poses and defenses that must be inherent in this kind of setting, as well as the kind of knowledge that must come with getting past them. On “Burnside”, a tumbling piano underwrites remembrances of living an addict's life (“The drug of choice is more”) in Portland (“So high on Burnside / Just Erin and I / We seem to die a day at a time”). If it sounds twelve-stepy, it's not. It all comes off as incredibly personal and close to the bone, and it's executed with enough skill to avoid anything remotely maudlin.

While the album is mostly about struggle, there's no lament, just small moments resonating across the songs. On the title track, a deceased sibling haunts a run-down of traveling points across the continental US (“What my brother could have been / That's what I've been wondering from Hawthorne to Hennepin / From Brooklyn and back again”). Hawthorne is a bridge in Portland, and Hennepin is Hennepin County in Minnesota, but the line could just as easily be referring to consecutive blocks in Greenpoint and the effect would be the same. The distance is in how far you're carried along, emotionally or geographically, and in the singer's ability to recount it so that there is still power in the telling. The album's centerpiece is “Yellowstone”, another multi-state mini-epic that turns a genuine recollection of the residue of loss (“Back in New York, I'm hanging on to all the clothes he wore”) into something regal and almost cinematic.

At 34 minutes, Hawthorne to Hennepin moves quickly enough to keep the listener from getting swamped, and its touch is light enough to keep the sometimes hard memories from feeling too heavy. But the substance is there in the loss and in the recovery, and musically in the fact that they never lose sight of the next chorus. Having the opportunity to tour with Clint, Michigan, and getting to hear them on a nightly basis as part of what they made feel like a series intimate performances for friends, whether there were 100 or just three of us, was something that still feels incredibly relevant in my personal memories, but also something that I wasn't sure they'd be able to document without losing some vital piece. Instead, all of the best parts survived the trip.



Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Film

Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.

Books

The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.

Music

Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.

Music

King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.

Music

Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.

Music

Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.

Music

Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.

Music

The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.

Music

Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.

Film

The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.

Music

'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.

Music

Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.

Books

Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.

Music

South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.

Music

Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.

Music

'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.

Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.