Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Sarah Ruth's "The Shape of Blood To Come"

Sarah Ruth Alexander is a performer with a unique sensibility, formed by growing up in the desolation of a West Texas family farm. Classically trained at UNT, she's become a mainstay of the vibrant experimental music scene that germinated in Denton and in recent years has taken root in Dallas venues like Stefan Gonzalez's Outward Bound Mixtape Sessions at RBC, Run With Scissors' evenings at Tradewinds Social Club, the peripatetic Dallas Ambient Music Nights (currently in residence at Oak Cliff's Texas Theatre), Chateau Virago, and Top Ten Records. In person, the austerity of her sound -- which juxtaposes Western gothicism with electronic noise -- is undercut by goofy humor (often heard in her Tiger D radio broadcasts on KUZU-FM).

Sarah Ruth's willingness to collaborate has occasionally led her to settings where her signature strengths -- the ethereal voice with a jagged edge, sometimes processed into welters of electronic chaos; the folkloric instrumentation that recalls something from the plague years -- were subsumed in directionless ensembles. Her two previous releases, 2015's solo autobiographical Words On the Wind and 2016's Far From the Silvery Light with They Say the Wind Made Them Crazy (a duo with Monks of Saturnalia/Decoding Society/Unconscious Collective/Habu Habu guitar shaman Gregg Prickett), were haunting documents of her expression. Her current release, The Shape of Blood to Come, surpasses both.

The album -- available via Bandcamp as a digital download or limited edition cassette -- is a collage of tracks with different instrumentation and collaborators. An epigraph from William Carlos Williams establishes that this will be an exercise in theme-and-variations. Three tracks feature a full band that teams Sarah Ruth with Pinkish Black's dark-and-heavy duo Daron Beck and Jon Teague and Wire Nest guitar minimalist Frank Cervantez. (Pinkish Black's new record is mastered and amazing; they also have a collaboration with Yells At Eels in the can, awaiting completion.) Denton eminence J. Paul Slavens contributes meditative piano to three others, while Dim Locator guitarist Will Kapinos joins in spectrally on two more. To these feedback-scorched ears, however, the most affecting tracks are those where multi-instrumentalist Beth Dodds splits the difference with Sarah Ruth on dulcimer and harmonium. Uneasy music for uneasy times.

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