New Asthmatic Kitty member keeps songs coiled tight in symphonics
After years of keeping his music close to the vest, David Stith met My Brightest Diamond chanteuse Shara Worden, who ushered the Brooklyn transplant into the Asthmatic Kitty fold—a fitting place for someone whose work echoes Steve Reich’s Music For 18 Musicians even more than Kitty-master Sufjan Stevens. Soon, Stith capitulated on his long-held privacy, yielding last year’s aptly titled teaser EP, Curtain Speech, which showcased classical foundations and (somewhat like Worden herself) a roaming vocal grace that smacked of Jeff Buckley. Speech’s near-eight-minute centerpiece, “Just Once,” scaled and descended symphonic heights with the dreamlike wonder of angels on Jacob’s Ladder, introducing Stith as a songsmith with hooks laid strangely, securely in ethereality.
Full-length debut Heavy Ghost stays likewise fastened. Opener “Isaac’s Song” launches with thrashing piano hits and sliding vocal warbles as Stith declares (or is it still self-entreatment?) “I’ve gone in!” And once he passes into otherworldliness (with mystic chorales, percussive string hits and conflicted religious sentiments forming Heavy Ghost’s haunted skin), he does not escape it. Soon it becomes far too easy to lose songs within their orchestral swathes, melodies to their counterpoints. With one foot in minimalist-inspired avant-classical and the other in psych-folk, the tracks often abandon the strengths of either. Heavy Ghost's most captivating moments come when a hierarchy is struck, firmly establishing one as the focus. Amongst those choosing the first, “Braid of Voices” embroils a languid piano progression with modulating repetitions to culminate in astonishing beauty; amongst those choosing the second, “Thanksgiving Moon” absorbs an vamping folk tune with a magnificent, buoying brass arrangement.
Even if Heavy Ghost doesn’t feel fully unfurled—or if it unfurled for too long, with all those years spent gestating—Stith still continues to demonstrate his symphonic talents and deep care for texture and timbre. It would be a pleasure to find him arranging for others’ works in his spare time (à la kindred spirit Nico Muhly), but it would be even better to hear the next DM Stith album with the maker shining a bit more through his own beauteous clutter.
Stream DM Stith's Heavy Ghost via Asthmatic Kitty.