Columbus, Ohio is in many ways a misleading sort of city. Initial impressions lend an aura of a dank, gray Midwestern industrial-scape, a sprawling flat prairie city ringed in massive highways and loomed over at its core by an oversized public university. It’s only after one wanders down the city’s labyrinthine, narrow side-streets that you stumble upon the gorgeous collapsing wrecks of old Victorian homes and quaint brick corner cafes, on streets lined with soaring oaks and maples.
Discovering that Columbus is the home of Jordan Spencer, purveyor of the marvelous Cabin Floor Esoterica label and a sound artist in his own right under the name White Fir, works the same way. The aesthetics of his output have one expecting a locale cozied up in a remote mountainside, a place of flannel and fogged breath, crackling logs and mysterious woodlands. Instead, this beauty is nestled in America’s heartland, in one of its overlooked big cities dwelling at the center of a much-maligned Rust Belt state. Appearances, and listenings, can be deceiving, sometimes in the best of ways.
White Fir is a project made up of tattered tape excursions, and organic elements are the name of the game and the playing field all at once. Here you’ll find manipulated loops of piano, viola and many, many field recordings, all rendered without the benefit of digital processing or laptop-generated interference. When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again is the final part in a trilogy titled “Lake Seeds”, and the blending of naturalistic imagery with the halos of decaying tape fit perfectly; these are pieces that encapsulate more of their surroundings than they let on.
That sense of entropy and corrosion is present from the opening echoes and burbles of the “Used Flowers” section of Side A, through seas of distortion and creaking viola, and into the dark ambient that kicks off Side B with “His Gasoline Sound”. As the album fades into simple drone, and then static, there’s a sense of dusk falling like a white shroud on this vast flatland city, swallowing up all of those charming old houses and storefronts and old factory spaces and graffiti-scarred overpasses until night brings silence and darkness, and the tape comes to a close.
Though deliberately and willfully lo-fi in execution, make no mistake, Mr. Spencer aims for an ambitious high with this release, and by most counts succeeds winningly. One of the most compelling and intriguing releases of the young year, it’s also a thrilling reminder that, though the hometowns may sometimes surprise you, they always bury their treasured secrets within. Thankfully, White Fir has welcomed us in and shared some of their own. (Zachary Corsa)