A Low Place At The Old Place
“When something happens, it can leave a trace of itself behind. Say like, if someone burns toast.” So says clairvoyant Dick Hallorann to young Danny Torrance in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. He’s attempting to explain the malevolent nature of the Overlook Hotel, a place with a long history of colorful visitors and incidents, “and not all of ’em was good.” Like the fictional Hallorann, very-much-real Oak Creak musician Todd Umhoefer is no stranger to haunted places. His 2009 debut as Old Earth, Out Of The Spheres Of The Sorrowful Mysteries, was written while alone in his parents’ house immediately following the death of his mother. For Old Earth’s latest record, A Low Place At The Old Place, Umhoefer once again seeks out an emotionally loaded locale, recording the album in the basement of his grandparents’ vacant home.
Less a proper album than a single, 18-minute-long musical reverie, Low Place is dominated by Umhoefer’s droning electric guitar, and peppered with the occasional sundry accompaniment. Opening movement “Sea Of Canes” spends nearly five minutes before the singer’s raspy, otherworldly vocals comes into play. “And tonight, they visit again / So tonight, I hear them again,” Umhoefer rasps, practically willing the ghosts of the past into the record’s empty spaces. (That his voice is so sonically distinct from the rest of the mix—it sounds like it was recorded in a metal storage locker—only adds to the album’s unnerving sense of disembodiment.) Produced by Field Report’s Chris Porterfield and Nick Berg, Low Place is technically a folk album, though it’s far removed from Porterfield’s more traditional folk. Instead, comparisons to fellow Milwaukee experimental outfit Altos seem apt. Both projects share a moody, sinister edge, though the relatively bright and all-too-brief “In A Room With The Tall Ones” offers an enticing glimpse of a more accessible, user-friendly Old Earth. Still, as it stands, Low Place is a spellbinding wonder, an enigmatic and, yes, haunting effort that hangs in the air long after the fact.
(Old Earth celebrates the physical release of A Low Place At The Old Place Wednesday, Nov. 7 at the Art Bar.)