Daniel Higgs Say God

[Thrill Jockey; 2010]

Styles: gospel songs, poetry
Others: Lungfish

Daniel Higgs must have a special relationship with the folks at Thrill Jockey, as it seems he was given carte blanche to create whatever he wanted with this two-disc set, Say God. Eight songs and two full-length CDs later, you’ve been to church and back again, getting fully sermonized and proselytized as a member of the new age church of Higgs. While it’s not the first time Thrill Jockey has released his solo chanting, it’s surely one of the most epic and expansive releases perpetrated on the label. Higgs has been traveling down this road for a long time now, but this seems to be a bellwether for his church. This is not the punk aesthetic of Lungfish, not in the least. Rather, this is some serious indoctrination into a spiritual cult. It’s hardly bearable if you’re unprepared (or expecting Lungfish), and I find myself reenacting the same scene I lived through in high school every Sunday morning; squirming in my seat, doodling on the program.

There’s not much breaking up the sermons, aside from a banjo instrumental without any vocals (“Song for Azariah”) and the squeezebox drone of “Jewel of the East.” In the sermons, repetition is used frequently, creating circular effects that are positively hypnotizing — or maddening, depending on what your interest is. The gospel songs are marked by impressive vocal manipulation, often backed by severe drones. Although Higgs is not explicitly evoking the god of Judeo-Christian tradition, that god seems to be pretty closely related. A careful listen from a sympathetic ear is perhaps the best approach leading to appreciation, as tooling around town in a pickup truck does not seem to be the proper way to enjoy or absorb the thrust of Say God. Naturalism, spirituality, and romantic notions will be useful qualities to keep in your satchel if you choose to take the entire journey and go end to end with Higgs. Or maybe you’ll need a peyote button. I doubt that’s what Higgs has in mind, but shamans are as shamans do, and perhaps psychedelics could expand your ability to penetrate the otherwise thorny density of this format and presentation. Tell you what: eat a small handful of whatever and stick around until six minutes into “Root & Bough” and then tell me what you saw.

It’s a fairly ambiguous sort of religion being outlined here. It seems to largely concern itself with the mystery of life, with appreciation of the spiritual without specific rules or litanies. Wonderment in general from the cosmos on down seems to be the crux. I saw him live recently in an art gallery in Oakland, CA, showing up at the tail end kinda blazed and finding him droning on some sort of squeeze box. He was chanting over and over again, and I quickly fell into a trance. I found it difficult to garner any message from the chant, being instead preoccupied with my own stoned mental drifting. However, I will say that the image of the bearded, well-lit Higgs on stage, his mouth often wide open in a deep chant as he intoned messages of shamanistic glory, left an impression on me that is a stark contrast to my memories of Lungfish. But be warned: I would recommend Say God only to those who seem to be of the proper inclination and moral fiber, which is something I would find hard to describe but easily intuited. There are no simple prerequisites — wearing sandals is clearly not enough.

Links: Daniel Higgs - Thrill Jockey

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