The third full-length from Memphis-area dronegazers Nonconnah, Songs For And About Ghosts sounds rather like the title suggests; the howls of haunted media, fluttery half-recorded-over melodies, an accumulation of memories, the layers of time, a cresting wave of drone, a triumphant song rising up from the beyond. This husband-and-wife duo have been releasing music together for over a decade now, with the kind of deep and sprawling discography typical of the tape scene at the time they began. Their output has continued apace, but Songs is easily their most focused record yet.
Zachary and Denny Wilkerson Corsa originally made music under the name Lost Trail while living in North Carolina. Their sound evolved gradually over the years, not unlike their compositions. After moving to Tennessee around 2016, the project was rechristened as Nonconnah, a rebirth that has perhaps helped to focus their output. Earlier work often featured long tails of effect-heavy guitar drones, easily earning their self-described title as dronegazers. Their work has never lacked ambition, often releasing massive multi-part suites. But their discography is also full of the thoughtful use of smaller formats, including not only tapes but 3″ CDs with elaborate packaging designed to deepen an appreciation for the concepts behind their work. While countless layers laid down in the studio still seems to be at the heart of their production practice, their sound has become more refined with time, making Songs an easy point of entry.
On Songs For and About Ghosts, Denny contributes field-recordings and percussion, while Zachary draws on a typically broad range of resources, everything from mandolin to laser guns. But Songs owes especially to the contributions of some very special guests, with string arrangements courtesy of Owen Pallett (Final Fantasy, Arcade Fire) and some deep synth textures from Jenn Taiga. Comprised of four extended tracks each of around twelve and half minutes in length, Songs never settles into a lull for long. Instead it maintains a steady momentum, often shifting naturally from one environment to another, while sometimes the transitions signal more of a rupture, as if suddenly passing from inside a dark cabin and out into the fresh air of the countryside.
Taiga’s lush synth tones anchor the opener, “To Follow Us Through Fields Of Light,” while on “Changed In Autumn’s Feral Depths,” Zachary’s guitar arpeggio progression is elevated by Pallet’s grand strings. “At The End of Everything” is noisier, more lurking static and a lilting cadence. A phone error tone loops into a melody against which an acoustic guitar stumbles a rhythm. The track evokes a ghostly jam in a mall that’s been abandoned since the ’90s, whose comedown is run out by a simple piano melody played on a wobbly tape against a recording of a woman pontificating against militarization. Closer “The Willow And The Meeting Twain”, opens with more radio voices, as reversed-melodies swell into a cloud of delay. Each song is broken down into five equal movements, with transitions that can often be abrupt. In the past the duo might have turned in this material at twice the runtime, but the editing and condensation benefits the material.
Part of the charm of both Lost Trail and Nonconnah has been the inclusion of Americana thrown into their soup of post-rock, drone, and shoegaze influences. Sometimes that manifests sonically in a particular orientation towards tradition, but it is an influence that can also manifest conceptually in different ways, such as in the album art, packaging, and inclusion of poetry. The album is dedicated to Willem Van Spronsen, who was killed in 2019 while attempting to disable a fleet of buses at ICE’s Northwest Detention Center in Oregon, on the one year anniversary of a hunger strike initiative by prisoner’s held there. The media were quick to brand his actions as an act of terrorism, but his powerful manifesto at least attests to a kind of moral clarity that, if nothing else, complicates this narrative. Van Spronsen was armed with a home-built “ghost” AR-15, which may alter how we interpret the title of this album. But I know Zachary and Denny are peaceful and non-violent, and that Van Spronsen was also a musician. Woodie Guthrie‘s guitar was famously emblazoned with the slogan “This machine kills fascists.” Perhaps Zachary’s channels the words of Van Spronsen: “You don’t have to burn the motherfucker down, but are you going to just stand by?” (Joseph Sannicandro)