Thereís something magical in that rickety, lo-fi
sound. Maybe itís the intimacy of almost eavesdropping on the
sock-strewn bedroom where the songs were dreamed up. Maybe it
brings us all closer to vicariously sharing the dream of making
music thatís personal. It could just be that, for many of us,
the listening to and/or making of music is the closest we come
to sharing and experiencing the things we really feel. Donít
get me wrong, this re-released Kid Icarus recording ainít four-track
fuzzy or muffled like a guy singing under cardboard. Still,
while nobodyís going to confuse the Kid with E.L.O., Map
of the Saints has a worn, comfortable feel only non-produced,
often four-track basement-born music provides.
And comfortable it should be. First conceived in 1998 and 1999
by one-man band Eric Schlittler (say that five times fast!)
and originally released in 1999, this version of Maps
of the Saints is released on Summersteps Records and
includes fourteen tunes or near-tunes of stylistic variety and
varied influence. Now pared down to forty-five instead of its
original sixty minutes, these songs have been worn in. In fact,
a few mistakes or false starts are left in to help.
Diving into the thing, the variety is most notable. Iím left
with a real Guided By Voices feel with its adherence to scruffy
song structure and idiosyncratic lyrics. A sixties psychedelic
vibe is present, too. Also, Mr. Schlittler has a few bands on
the Flying Nun label in his record collection, Iíd wager.
Melodies, often of the fragile sort, try their best to find
a home in your head. Minimal musicianship, often with Schlittler
on acoustic guitar, distortion and a little feedback either
help or hinder the home-making. Itís often drumless, with an
extra guitar and, as spice, a duet or two with the woman who
drew the album cover. Some birds make an appearance on one tune.
Lyrically, songs seem to focus on the time-honored subject of
relationships, experiences about which only Schlittler really
knows for sure and, on one occasion, reading Kafka.
Probably, the albumís greatest strengths lie in the composition
and textures Schlittler weaves together. His use of dissonance
adds an emotional depth and tension. Clearly, Schlittler has
spent many a night on the bedroom floor listening and losing
himself in music. He brings the fruits of that experience into
the music he makes. The final track, called Pieces on a Board,
is a good example of what he does so right. The melody is newborn
and struggling to live. The guitar has a weary fuzz to it. The
song closes with the whole thing breaking down. Thereís a drama
to things like this that invites the listener to insert the
tragedy of his choice and feel.
What weaknesses there are to be found in Maps of the
Saints depend largely on oneís tolerance for the genre
in which Schlittler thrives. Thereís no small sense of underachievement
in songs that feel like one-takes that may have been spontaneously
created in the moment. A little self indulgence, at least in
the often overly self-referential, can be a put-off for some.
Others might find that what appears quaint and intimate to one
discriminating listener is unbearably amateurish to another.
Melodies that threaten to unravel or are ephemeral might also
trouble a listener or two, mainly because the unpolished and
unwashed are too often ignored or avoided before their charms
are allowed to show through.
Quibbles or prejudices aside, as an album, Maps of the
Saints is well worth seeking out and experiencing repeatedly.
Schlittler has an innate sense of song craft, a good compositional
sense, and a mighty fine record collection. Heck, the back of
the album mentions Captain Beefheart and Keiji Haino. With that
kind of musical taste, this guy should be President.