As I walked through the rain this weekend listening to Mind Over Mirrors’ High & Upon, hood pulled up over my immodestly large German headphones, I kept thinking of that bizarre Firing Line interview where Allen Ginsburg starts singing Hare Krishnas to William F. Buckley.
Sure, Bloom, they both play harmoniums (harmonia?). Some connection.
It’s true — on the surface, they have very little in common. Jaime Fennelly doesn’t sing either. But the first track, “I’m Willing to Stagger,” lurches into its trebly opening with something like the assertiveness of poems like “Howl,” and the whole thing is shot through with pseudo-mystical overtones that feel more retro than the late rediscoveries of sacred geometry, tarot, pyramids, and whatnot.
The pacific regionalism of “Wichita Vortex Sutra” is there somewhere in “Harmattan Morning,” the shorter track by 11 minutes. The whole album has a gorgeously warm sound, thanks to Fennelly’s other instrument — tape delay — but the effect is especially nice here, with countermelodies following one another in and out of intelligibility. The obscurity suggests the piece’s title, named after an easterly wind that brings dust and haze to West Africa, but it applies just as well to the place Fennelly first conceived the Mind Over Mirrors project: the Salish Sea of Washington State, land of heavy sky and perpetual deluge. Dust, rain, tape delay — they deny clarity, but they also pervade. Fennelly is “all about saturated sound,” according to the project’s Bandcamp.
It would be tough for any single musician to achieve the kind of saturation he does with any other combination of instruments. Seriously, the compositions are fine and all, but the coolest part is the timbres; the harmonium’s thick overtones shimmering with tape delay, thick chords in “Mountain Convalescence” rising in volume from an accompaniment to a screen for the melody to an all-consuming wall of sound. His work with Peeesseye is excellent, but there’s a monastic quality to this solo work I really appreciate. And parts of the album — especially that lovely second track — sound like a Takoma Records tribute on keys, equally indebted to Fahey’s brand of cosmic-but-rooted folk as to any droney modernist.
It’s a bit of a contradiction, and maybe that’s what the last TMTer heard as “indecisiveness,” but the way Fennelly holds these elements in tension is the essence of his style. There’s a reason the end of “Mountain Convalescence” ends in a squall of stuttery feedback and why this is a reissue of a cassette release. As the signal-to-noise ratio of our information-saturated lives approaches zero, the lonesome organ grinder weaponizes that which would drown him out. He knows what we weren’t born to lose. But he’s good enough, like Dylan or even Christ, not to tell us exactly what. Take up your tape machine and follow him.