Seth Graham – Hearing the Tea Leaves

This new release from Ohio’s Seth Graham is the second album on Mondoj I’ve reviewed. Seth is an accomplished composer, as well as cofounder of the Orange Milk label, a heavyweight in underground experimental music. Hints (tape and digital is his sixth release, and is a document of an important moment for the artist. 

In his words, “I wanted the creation of tracks to be pure joy, by not overthinking and collaborating with friends. This allowed me to let go of the outcome and find satisfaction in enjoying the process. Artists like myself are so over ridden with anxiety, the need to be accepted or the obligation to be ‘successful’ often dominates our process in making choices and creating. I tried to let this go.”  That is a strong aim for an artist – or anyone else for that matter – and with this in mind Grahahm created a cassette that is difficult to label but not impossible to review.

Acoustic and electronic motifs create a suite of styles: avant-garde classical, musique concrète, and tape manipulation. Offering a relaxing, if not slightly somber, journey of audio exploration, the theme of anxiety and release is the focus. String swells and plucks are common occurrences, joined by vocoder melodies in an unexpected fashion, creating intriguing atmospheres. 

A few areas occupy space with 90s soundscapes featuring soft synthesizer washes, but before the meditation begins the terrain abruptly changes. Saxophone echoes out jazz lines followed by a ghostly sounding refrain that sounds like it is being played in an abandoned house. Comparisons to other albums or artists are difficult because every few minutes completely new sounds enter the fray. Frank Zappa’s Civilization Phase III is close in spirit, lots of disparate events welded together with modern technology for a serious composition that packs a lot of power in roughly twenty minutes.  

This melding of genres feels like it pushes and pulls, ebbs and flows, to create a new field of music. There are similarities to past experiments here, to be sure, but everything is new and the possibilities are endless.

– Jeff Brown

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