Nature and the imagination have kept us going during the pandemic, and Abby Lee Tee offers a bit of each on two current releases. It’s often difficult to tell where the field recordings end and the instrumentation begins, but when woven together, they form a fantastic forest where one might encounter creatures strange yet benign.
imaginary friends I (small letters for small creatures) appeared in December 2018, smack in the middle of elf and flying reindeer season, so it didn’t get the coverage it deserved. Turns out it’s a fantastic release, filled with nuance and unidentifiable noises: a sonic addition to a season of wonder during which people are primed to believe in the extraordinary. Percussion makes several appearances, played on discarded instruments; water flows in the back creek, bees buzz about looking for winter nectar, lasers blast, doors squeak, and strange words are spoken by some unearthly sprite. The press release mentions otters, hedgehogs, electric fences and tea kettles. There’s cowbell of course, and probably a kitchen sink. These imaginary friends are not meant to be scary, but mysterious, seen by children and only occasionally suspected by adults. (Their hijinks, unfortunately, are often blamed on children.) At the end of the tape, everyone and every thing is dancing; imagine Where the Wild Things Are without the downer psychology of the film. Then a ferry arrives, blowing its foghorn, and takes the humans back across the sea to their boring homes, where there be no monsters at all.
If you’re at a bar far away from home, try a new drink, and love it, you’ll certainly order another. Who knows if you’ll ever enjoy that taste again? So it’s no surprise that Czaszka ordered a second batch of Imaginary Friends (Large Letters for Large Creatures). This time a squeaky toy says hello in the early moments, chattering atop a babbling brook and a rolled glass. Both real and unreal, live and Memorex, this new collection of simulacrums contains a brand new cast of characters, including piglets, owls and sheep (o my!). Waves crash in the distance; we seem to be at the ocean, digging in the sand, creating sand castles in which our creatures might live. Up at the beach house, someone is using masking tape, a hammer and a shovel to create an outdoor cabin in case the crabs want to crawl up for a visit. Now’s a good time due to the sun shower and pesky planes. Somebody get that tea kettle!
After all the time they spend together, one shouldn’t be surprised that these species and sounds start shacking up. Cohabiting Species continues the story well into the winter, with gorgeous reverberations on frozen lakes, and squabbling siblings of hail and ice. This release appears on Shash Records, home to many prior Abby Lee Tee releases, sporting the familiar ALT logo, and is a co-release with Accidental Records. One might interpret the early drumming as a mating dance, and if so, we know what to expect: more small-case tiny creatures running around before long, completing the circle. Just be careful, young parents, because those gulls seem hungry, and if you’ve ever seen what they eat at the beach, you’ll know they’re not particular.
Midway through Side A, a surprising interlude develops: a love theme, tailor made to spark romance. An overt musicality makes the segment stand out, lasting from minutes four to ten, when the ice begins to crack again. Side B launches with depth pings and heavy steps, like a protective father. The side quickly develops a darker drone, intimating trouble in paradise. In horror films, cohabiting usually leads to a gruesome death, but Abby Lee Tee is kinder to the citizens of his created community. They resurface in turns beginning with the shrimp, followed by the birds and wedding bells. Single, ominous taps turn into a festive dance, and one of the birds ~ who has managed to imitate an car’s electronic remote ~ demonstrates a perfect sense of tempo. In the final two minutes, an actual song breaks out, on an actual keyboard. Crisis averted! Now we wait for the babies to arrive. (Richard Allen)