Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
It's easy to feel little - to feel like a minute little speck, outnumbered and outweighed. Sitting within our heads, we're allowed to be deceptive. We can convince ourselves of our importance and our stature, as if it might be something considerable. One way to shake that misguided thought is to think about just how long after an obituary appears in the newspaper does one start to vanish. Think about the length of our obits - a couple tiny paragraphs to commemorate a long life. It's quite the turnover. We are little, so very little, and that's alright as it's the way we were born. It's the way we go away too. When we listen to Chicago group Pillars and Tongues, we can't help but have this sense of being microscopic, as if we were a grain of flesh at the bottom end of an immense funnel - a funnel bigger than anything imaginable. Somehow this funnel is being held up, in its place by the forces of nature, maybe pinned to its spot with vines and support beams and with it to our ear, we hear the hissing sound of silence, almost the same exact sound we hear when we rest our head against our pillow at night with an ear accidentally folded over. Then Pillars and Tongues start to play and, even in a minimalist scenario, with dynamics here, there and everywhere, the sounds reach us like a comet, impacting the side of our head with what we'd like to hear as wisdom and wilderness, the wild static between the stations that we're always hearing. These are the sounds and the sensations that whisper to us, that transmit those subliminal messages into our ears while we're sleeping. There are the sounds made by playing instruments differently, seeing what it sounds like to slide this or that against those strings, seeing if those wings flapping will get picked up by the microphones, seeing if blood pumping is audible. With the band's latest album, "The Pass and Crossings" and 2010's release, "Lay of Pilgrim Park," we learn quickly that blood pumping is audible and we feel as if we're swept up in a wave of it, the sound of it booming and powerful. Mark Trecka, Elizabeth Remis and Evan Hydzik create a communication between themselves and the spirits and it sometimes sounds like two old windmills talking to each other in code. It sounds like slow, wavering flames of fire and the cool air of an abandoned cave. It sounds like a hillside that could go on forever without bumping into another living soul. It sounds like compassion and as if we're living outside of our skins, feeling new things that we've never felt and realizing that this is what being alive and fragile is.