In Songs Illustrated, Paste enlists its favorite comic book artists and cartoonists to translate songs into comic art.
In the opening lines of his group’s third album, Such Things, Saintseneca frontman Zac Little defies “the stars above to bash our milky heads in.” The Dylan Thomas-esque sentiment marks a deep shift from the Columbus, Ohio quintet’s previous work: if debut LP The Last embraced the inevitability of death and last year’s breakout Dark Arc meditated on the ensuing doom, Such Things simply asks what’s next. And for Little, that heady process involved days studying consciousness and its relationship to contemporary physics, inspired by deep dives into New Age eye-openers like The Tao of Physics.
“I wanted to put out a bibliography with the album, but I thought it might be too pretentious,” Little explains over drinks at a local Columbus diner. “In Zen Buddhism they talk about this idea of objects not being a fixed, static thing, but rather an event. The constituent parts—those molecules, those fluctuations of energies—are something that coalesce for a certain period of time and then dissipate. You might consider a bench or a chair and consider it a fixed thing that is, but really it is a thing that happens. Then it has a certain level of fluidity.”
Wearing a regal “uniform” of a black collarless shirt, black vest, black pants, black coat and (very) black boots, Little layers his conversation with similar arch concepts where academia and hallucinogens might shake hands. A moment later he name drops Hindu dualism, discussing how “Brahman is the fundamental nature of reality, where everything is the same thing—Maya is the illusion that it’s discrete.” The Higgs boson particle—or the “God” particle that communes electrical energy to other elementary particles—also pops up conversationally. Make no mistake, Saintseneca is thinking man’s folk.
Alongside bandmates Maryn Jones (vocals, bass), Steve Ciolek (vocals, guitar, Neptune), Matt O’Conke (drums) and Jon Meador (vocals, synthesizer, piano), Little distills these meta dialogues into shimmering tracks that aren’t a fraction as daunting as their inspirations. Violin, banjo, guitar and the jangly interplay between Little’s campside howl and Jones’ precious falsetto are simply intoxicating. The DNA of sonic patrons like The Beatles (check the lovely George Harrison sitar on “Necker Cube”) and Neutral Milk Hotel may poke through its mix, but Saintseneca has honed its subversive identity over eight and a half years, the first few consisting of “punk” tours that passed through basements and the occasional bridge underpass while Little held down a job at the campus Urban Outfitters.
Original “Bad Ideas Comic by Julian Dassai
Such Things continues to pump Little’s weighty cognition into populous songcraft. Take “Bad Ideas,” Paste’s latest Songs Illustrated entry from fellow Columbus artist and musician Julian Dassai. The track studies another concept that is often thought to be eternal, but often happens for a temporary time: romantic relationships. Debuted here for the first time, “Bad Ideas” strays into post-punk claustrophobia defined in airtight snares, circular synths and oppressive basslines. Within the song’s 215 seconds, the immense and intimate collide.
“These songs work on two levels,” Little explains. “They tie into the broader conceptual framework, but they all grow from the seeds of personal relationships and experiences that I might have had. It has that duality. I think the best part of it is that I want these songs to be grounded.”
The seed of “Bad Ideas” comes from the friction two potential partners endure when attempting to understand each other. How much can someone assume that they’re obtaining and interpreting the most basic information the same way as the friends and lovers around them? According to Little, they can’t.
“I feel this constant tension where everyone creates reality in their own head. They have the tendency to be their own self-centered universe in their own world, and sometimes try to scoop other people into that and make it fit. Everybody’s doing that at the same time.”
This dissonance can operate on the most fundamental levels. “Do we even see the same color?” Little posits. “How does that objective stimuli or red light entering your eyeball, going through your optic nerve and translating into little flickers of electricity and salt ions in your brain…how does that mean red? And how does that physical process align with the person sitting next to you? That’s basic. Try to take that situation and impose it on what it means to care about someone, or what it means to miss someone across time and space. How does that concoction of energy and chemicals align, or doesn’t? If you’re in a relationship with somebody, and you’re relating to them, you’re trying to conform them to the reality that you have assembled in your own mind. Sometimes you have to let go of that.”
“Hopefully it’s poppy too,” Little adds.
In his own interpretation, Dassai, who provides comics monthly to 614 Magazine and has shared multiple bills with Saintseneca playing guitar in Nick Tollford & Company, adds B-movie panache to the concept of colliding worlds. Dassai’s five panels chart a nameless character’s descent into David Cronenberg-esque body horror with slightly less grotesque results. Little’s tale of romantic dysfunction mirrors the conclusion of the comic in a few different ways. When asked how the events that inspired the song worked out, Little smirks before saying, “they worked out in that they didn’t work out. It’s for the best.”
Such Things is set for an October 8 release via Anti-. Check their website for a list of tour dates.