On the surface, everything about Big Other screams darkness: the cover, the horror fiction, the admission that the album “is basically a mid-life crisis.” Despite all this, sunlight seeps through a windblown curtain, a cracked blind. Nicol Eltzroth Rosendorf is serious yet winking, disturbed yet stable, and as a result his music is fractured yet whole. His goal: to recapture the feeling of playing Morton Feldman through an amp. His find: something just as unusual, a product that invents its own rules in defiance of its maker. We’re told that the album contains samples of TV themes and rock icons, like needles in sonic haystacks, but they are impossible to identify. The roughest edges are sloughed like the pummeled words of the opening video, “Thrown Into Being,” abraded, exhausted, spent.
What happens to might and mind when all systems fail? Or when neglect and coldness collide with yearning and desire? One might ask The Electric Company’s Letterman, but he’s retired. Godspeed guitars build and surge; blood and bloated end up on top. One recognizes the jutting words as stolen from the artist’s story. Is this what it’s like to be thrown into being, to be plunged into a vessel already filled with fierce emotions? Would the outcome be different if the experiment were repeated? Or are there no re-dos?
Jarboe weighs in on the 13-minute “New Heart,” whose visuals are surprisingly lush and green. Once the drums arrive, we realize we’re watching more than just greenery; something is definitely moving. (Swamp Thing Season Two?) At first, the imprints are subtle: invisible footprints on moss. But soon the impact grows overt: dots on lichen, gridded screens, fleeing flora, and then in FSoL fashion, The Escape of the Dots. The virus has gone airborne. But what is the virus? Self-realization, denigration, an inability to focus on the green? As the camera draws back over the forest, a more benign circle is formed: a tunnel, an invitation. And there it is: that light. The slow path leads not to crescendo, but understanding.
After this epiphany, the mood calms in an enchantment of chimes: four minutes of peace whose brief reign is broken by large chords. Just as a transition from loud to soft closes the first side, the second rises from soft to loud, like an imprint, paving way for the three part finale. From humble beginnings, this epic builds to a wall of drone, offset by cello like dueling interpretations of a personal past. Will there be regret or acceptance, falling back or letting go? Piano and bass tiptoe to the front lines like wounded warriors. Something, we know not what, has been survived. Is it selfish to wish a second midlife crisis on the artist? The first has produced a gem. (Richard Allen)