200 Years 200 Years

[Drag City; 2011]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: ψυχή, θνῄσκω
Others: The Magik Markers, Six Organs of Admittance, Little Wings, Mirah, Loren Connors, Neil Young

It all began on a Tuesday. 200 years ago, Thackeray was born and Kleist committed suicide. The luddites uprose, and a river in New Madrid flowed backward. It all begins, again, on a Tuesday, 200-years-from-now — however we imagine it — like a skip. The CD-R I use to listen to 200 Years in my car will last, under impossible conditions, no longer than that Tuesday to come. 200 years — I don’t even begin to have a frame of reference for a time span that vast. In fact, as I watch the music video for ”Solar System,” I realize how little, in time, I’ve known. It is the last life of footage grown up and made, as in Decasia, to slip away in time, like the girl, like Elisa’s solar system. Elsewhere she sings, “there is time…”

200 Years/200 Years is, respectively, the project and album composed of and by the equally prolific Elisa Ambrogio (The Magik Markers) and Ben Chasny (Six Organ of Admittance). Drawing upon city and fantasy, dreaming in time, embodiment and the Earth, it is unsurprising that they have chosen to work with more ‘traditional’ forms: almost at home, in turns and simultaneously, in the darker passages from Neil Young, in the lo-fi romanticism of Little Wings and early Mirah, in the skeletal blues of Loren MazzaCane Connors, and, occasionally, in a gentle, dreamy psychedelia reminiscent of Six Organs. It is an eclectic Americana, expanded, lyrically, into trans-universal concerns: the grounded chrysanthemums and the bees and classical mythologies and time runaway, and what they mean. Ben plays guitar and Elisa sings.

“Get in a closer now/ Get in a little closer now.”

200 years. I possess two women’s poetry journals, each nearly that old. Occasionally I read through them for perspective. 2000 years ago, people wrote on papyrus and clay now on display, in fragments, at the Met — the handwriting looks as new as my own. Elisa’s words, even as they contain certain contemporary points of reference (the inverted clichés, the place-names), feel ancient in their delicate expansiveness. No doubt, the things with which she has concerned herself are ancient only insofar as they are aching, unresolved things, and likely to maintain that status for another 2000 years to come. What does the space between the rising and setting of the sun mean? What do the insects have to tell us? Does Archimedes’ death-ray work (like that)? Do we ever leave home? Can we? I’m not sure Elisa resolves any of these questions (in fact, she doesn’t), and perhaps partial resolution, in time, is our only possible hope. (I hope that, in 200 years, someone will discover 200 Years, anew, however an album, then, may exist. [What is the lifespan, anyhow, of data?]) She sings, “Every thought a ragged seed/ Dropped some for you and me/ Left some for the birds and some for thieves.”

Hand-written, repeatedly, on the cover: “Two-Hundred Years […] 200 Years […] 2 Hundred Years […] 200 Years […] Two Hundred Million Billion Years […]” When I was younger I used to say a word over and over and over until the sound was no longer meaningful as it once was. I wrote the names of girls I had crushes on over and over again in an attempt to make the name present when the body was not. “I leave town, but I never get away,” Elisa sings. Never ever. “You’re never done with memory,” she sings elsewhere. Or not for a while, anyway. And as bodies, bound in time, we write over and over and over again our place within it in an attempt to be less lost within it for the fewer-than-200-years we’re here. On 200 Years, Ben and Elisa play their mortality out, unnerved and reassuring, wisely, beautifully. There is no way to listen, closely, through the album without thinking, or speaking under your breath, with them, “200 years, 200 years, 200 years.” None of us will celebrate our bicentennial. (“Ask me that I know that I’m gonna die?”) And yet, in the world, in the sun, “there is time to be by your side, already more than alive.” And 200 years from now, this will remain the sole fact that makes time bearable.

Links: 200 Years - Drag City