Birthmark - The Layer Release Date: October 2007
Record Label: Coraille Records
It’s exciting to live in a post-modern world, in whichever way you choose define the term. Only when I sat down with my creative-writing professor, this was a couple months ago, did I realize the true extent and momentum behind this way of thinking, this way of seeing things. We spoke of authors such as Pynchon and Barth; either of us at any one time chiming on about why we’d like to envision these certain techniques, views, and love of instability in everyday life. I re-evaluated a great deal of things after walking out of that confined, fluorescently-dim office building. The jaunt back to the dormitory on those Atlanta streets was one that university alumni speaking at freshman inception tearfully look back upon – O’ these burgeoning years. It was, perhaps, suitable that I was listening to Birthmark’s estranged, though exploratory The Layer. Headlights flashing on the sidewalk in front of me, Nate Kinsella’s earthy vocals testing the waters of intrinsic human perspective in my ears.
“They make me just another sickly human/And I secretly deny their doctrine”
It wasn’t as if I hadn’t given The Layer a listen through before that night. “Flightless Bird”, the second song on the release, had accumulated nearly twenty listens by the end of the first night of my owning the album. The glinting, in its left-right-left-right sway, guitar line had me nearly doubled over in melodious intoxication. That guitar is the perfect grounding for the song, leaving your ears prepped and ready to delve in to the real substance – Nate’s defining lyrical presence. The man has been through and throughout the various independent rock circles in and around Chicago, with each undertaking gaining more experience. It’s as if The Layer is the product of those years faithful to such bands as December’s Architect, Joan of Arc, and Make Believe. Though this album has been roughly four years in the making, it flows as if it’s a man’s final plea for the world, a desperate response to a society gone wayward. The songs are reliably dark, the crux of most being otherworldly viola bellows. Though akin to Joan of Arc, there seems to always be an instrumental sparkle of hope, of understanding somewhere in the song for the listener to grasp upon; the electric guitar wiggles in “Cumulus Stimulus”, the xylophones in “A Solitary Angle on the Confinement of Doom”, and the chimes here and there in “The Layer” being a few examples.
“See how the children/Try to embrace the flightless bird/They couldn’t yet form words/But I could sense what they had wanted to say/I’m going to try and translate”
As various biographies and reviews of the album will state, a strong lyrical portion of the album focuses on Kinsella’s atheism. It also has a foothold in the occult, it seems, which stands not too far from what we’ve seen Nate’s cousin Tim ponder over in the past. Though this should not be connected or related to cousin Tim’s perspectives, in my opinion, or at least how he chooses to relay it. Nate is less flaunty, less abrasive, more controlled. And in this way it is more sincere, less assuming. You’ll find yourself listening, intently listening, as opposed to singing along as one might find themselves doing with Joan of Arc or Make Believe.
“Sometimes I find/Myself staring in to the eyes/Of every stranger that I can/When they stare back/I can’t trust they understand”
That night hasn’t yet been put in to words, and will remain that way. It was my moment to understand the world, a moment few seem to have experienced. The Layer may or may not have lasted the entire walk home; the music sank so deeply in to me that it’d be impossible to tell when exactly I turned my MP3 player off. I think there’s something to say about that, about how well Nate seems to have captured particular elements of the natural world, of more-than-meaningful outlooks on life, of what it is to come closer to finally understanding where the fuck we are and who exactly we want ourselves to be. At a certain point, this may not even seem like music – the album reads like a story, a contemporary Wasteland; perhaps eliciting every bit of Eliot’s despondency, but on the same coin, hope. Nate Kinsella is surely underground musically, but he sees the light of day and tells of it more sensibly than any other musician before him. The Layer is an absolute inspiration.
"I've been finding comfort in accidental order/And feeling let down when I recreate it/Because the act is conscious"