After initial listens of Talkdemonic's third album, Eyes At Half Mast, I found myself asking questions: What does it all mean? What is the common thread? Where is the big picture? With repeated listens, these little musical vignettes started to take shape, to become something greater than the sum of its parts. The album, which finds Talkdemonic at their most mercurial and exhibits their genre-maiming skills to be as nimble as ever, eventually came to remind me distinctly of a Robert Altman film: a vast, rotating cast of characters floating through a common area of existence, some linked by only the most nebulous of connections, others so tightly woven together that they're difficult to distinguish, some just showing up haphazardly in parts of the picture where they don't belong, but all orbiting just close enough to some center and to each other to have their paths affected by the combined gravity of the other bodies around them. Is it completely coherent? Maybe not. Is there a point to be made? Depends on who you ask. Is there something vital and compelling there worth devoting your attention to, even if you don't exactly know what it is? Unquestionably.
Eyes At Half Mast seems to be, on one level, an exploration of the horizons of the style of music that Talkdemonic themselves invented, but a lot of it retraces steps already taken, albeit with a noticeable upping of the proverbial ante as far as energy goes. Indeed, the majority of the songs, such as "Ending The Orange Glow" and "Huancayo Orchestrelle," are content with operating on various planes within the same boundaries Talkdemonic have setup, allowing the now familiar traditional folk instruments, relaxed beats, and juicy strings to function on a sort of autopilot, flying us over already mapped territory. Others, however, are on the very frontiers of the land, even testing the waters on the other side. The ebullient "Civilian" shows this type of unrestrained overstepping precisely, with its nosedive from a powerful symphonic marriage of strings, acoustic guitar, and neatly wrapped drums to a din of fuzz and screeching violas pushed too far. The highlight of the album, "Tides In Their Grave," takes the form of a spaced-out elegy saturated with distance and a melancholy that has always patrolled at the edges of Talkdemonic's music.
It'd be interesting to see Talkdemonic force their way out of this cocoon in which they've been living. But I have almost no idea what type of creature would result from such a metamorphosis. We only have hints, shades, vague ideas. It's like trying to write the last novel of a dead writer based only on notes he or she left in the margins of manuscripts. Thankfully, Talkdemonic isn't dead; we don't have to do that work, and with Eyes At Half Mast, we are given hope that they are starting out on the endeavor themselves. In the meantime, can we gain anything from taking a few more walks down the same path? Hey, I've seen Nashville like 30 times.