The local musician, producer, and sound engineer Erik Blood has a new LP called Lost in Slow Motion. Its theme and sound are very different from his last album, Touch Screens (2012). The sound of that 2012 record is raw like sex and has sections that swell with the confusion one feels during an orgasm. With Touch Screens, we entered the world not of a lover but a player. The drums were naked, the beats thumped (and sometimes pounded), and the lyrics concerned a man or men on the hunt for more and more flesh.
Lost in Slow Motion places us in the world of the lonely lover, one who still has all the pictures, records, and things, but no longer has the person. The present is for the body. The past is for the mind, which is filled with memories and trying to make sense of them.
Erik Blood's LP release party is Saturday, April 30 at the High Dive.
The 17th-century Dutch philosopher Spinoza once said that when we recall someone, we actually reactivate the exact time we spent with them. We are not retrieving them like the components in a computer's hard drive, but reliving (or re-creating as best as the mind can) a moment in the past. In short, memories are about our ghosts. And a person who's heartbroken finds him/herself living among more and more ghosts.
There was nothing ghostly about Touch Screens, which draws more from Blood's punk and rock side—a side he also channeled into his production work on Tacocat's new and excellent album Lost Time.
Lost in Slow Motion draws from the same stream that Blood channeled into his production work on Shabazz Palaces' last and most experimental record, Lese Majesty. Both albums are about longing—the longing for an absent lover (Slow Motion) and the longing for a black utopia (Majesty). The similarities continue: Slow Motion opens with Shabazz Palaces rapper Ishmael Butler reciting a cosmic poem on a beatless track called "(when they are loving)." He lists constellations (Cancer, Libra, Virgo...) and then chants about the "spinning motion" of celestial bodies (planets, pulsars) and all of those "night star-bright lights."
This introduction to the album is fitting because the stars and constellations in the sky are ghosts, too. They are the ancient light of objects so distant that some may no longer exist. Their light arrived too late. The sky is filled with such memories. Slow Motion is filled with inward ones. But the objects are romantic in nature.
"Not sure that's exactly what I intended with this album," Blood told me on the phone from Paris. "But I really do take that as a valid point of view, because the record is no longer just mine. It's out there. It's for other people. Whatever I intended does not really matter so much. As long as it made you feel something, and whatever that thing is, I'm fine with it."
Blood is staying at the Rue Charlot in Le Marais, which is to Paris what Pioneer Square is to Seattle, except that it's also the center of LGBT culture. Blood is staying there with his current boyfriend. It's only a vacation. He is not making or performing music.
I pressed him to elaborate on my theories about ghosts, romantic wounds, and bad memories, but he seemed not to want to go into the matter any further, so we switched tracks.
Technically and artistically speaking, what are the differences between Lost in Slow Motion and Touch Screens? Blood thought for a moment and said: "There is going to be a difference as to how you approach the production of rock and hiphop. But for me, the difference is not just the set of tools you use for recording (how you mic drums or use space and things like that). The tools you use for an artist making music in the studio is naturally going to be different than those for a group that brings you recorded music. That's obvious. But the real difference is that with a rock or punk band, you are trying to capture an energy. A band has energy. That's what they sound like. An energy. Whereas if I'm working with, say, THEESatisfaction, these are artists who create music that is based on feeling rather than energy. Yes, energy exists in everything we make, but with electronic music, feeling overtakes the energy."
This way of thinking of things also helps explain the essential difference between Touch Screens and Slow Motion: The former is about energy, and the latter is about this feeling.
For example, Slow Motion's second track, "The Attic System," which features Irene Barbaric on vocals—Erik Blood is a band that consists of two members, Erik and Irene—is a tune that at first sounds like it's going outward, that it might even be a dance track (full of energy), but then it suddenly turns inward and slowly journeys through glimmering layers upon layers of the saddest passions. The song pops open with handclapping that's almost step-like. There's even something childish about Barbaric's voice and the whole sound of the section, which runs for just under three minutes. Then things get serious with a sudden break whose empty space is filled with a floating Teutonic bass line that steadily rises in volume.
It peaks, and we burst into a world of darkening (even darkling) clouds and seas shimmering in the dying light of day. This is not a happy place; it's a place that was once happy. Some of the beauty is clearly drawn from the aristocratic melancholy of Cocteau Twins, an association Blood is proud of, and some of it from the dubby noir of UK-style triphop and the sublime gloom of dubstep.
Barbaric chants the words, "You and me, you and me, you and me, you and me, and you, you, you, you, you, you..." Do those longing for lost love sing anything else?
"['The Attic System'] was the breakthrough moment for me," said Blood. "It was the moment I realized what I was making. I began putting the album together without really knowing what direction I would take. Then I made that song, and I saw myself going in a new direction. You know, that's my sister's favorite song on the album. And I understand why. It comes from the music we grew up with, the music I listened to at home. [Blood was raised in an interracial family in Tacoma.] She heard this music, too. So there is a familial thing there."
Can we say that the new album is about your childhood? Your family? Innocence of youth? Youth lost? Is that what I heard and mistook for heartbreak?
"This is not easy to explain. Sorry for being so vague. But what I can say is that "The Attic System" opened a door I did not expect. It was a door I had never explored. And I entered it. It led to a lot of the music on the album."
One sound connects all of Erik Blood's work, rock and rap: the sound of clapping.
"I love, love, love handclaps!" he said. "I can't think of a song that had handclaps that didn't make me immediately want to put my fucking hands together. Maybe because the first song I ever heard was "Sunshower" by Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band. First ever, for real. And when that brilliantly placed handclap after the bridge comes in, you just know it's time to get down. Yes, I love claps. Listen to everything I produce—they're there."
(The song on the new album with the best and most pronounced handclapping is "Hold for Laughs.")
The conversation we had on the phone was pretty straightforward. He seemed to have some problems with my interpretation of his work, but he also did not want to go into the details of the tracks, which left me wondering what they mean. How was I to make sense of the striking declaration in "The Attic System": "Tell me how can we get away with this?" And what was the sad last track really about? Who was it being sung to? It really sounded like it was directed at someone who was now surely a ghost.
Slow Motion concludes with OCnotes, another Stranger Genius Award nominee and very talented producer, pleading to a lover that he did his best, that he still feels love, and that he really wants to be understood. (As everyone knows, lovers are always misunderstood by their ghosts.)
We left the conversation with a lot of questions in the air, and I was concerned about two things: One, that I had pushed too hard and asked questions in our interview that he was simply not comfortable answering. The second worry was more practical: That my profile of Blood, planned to coincide with the album's release and the show he's playing to celebrate it, will be needlessly cryptic and enigmatic and fail to adequately represent either him or his music. Blood is having an excellent year as an artist, but despite the work he's done with Tacocat and Shabazz Palaces (among other artists), I believe Lost in Slow Motion represents his very best, most emotional work as an artist. Did I press my reading of it too hard onto its creator?
The next day, I received an e-mail from Blood, writing from his room in Paris. With the author's permission, the e-mail is printed here, in its entirety:
I'm going to tell you stuff about the album because I want you to know. I think you understand why I'm always a little hesitant to tell anyone what things are about. I never want to overshadow the feelings something I made might give someone else and especially don't want to negate anyone's interpretation because they're all correct if that's the meaning they've given it.
That said, the whole album is about the ending of a 10-year relationship I was in at the time that I wrote and composed the album. The relationship officially ended a few days after the album was completed, so there is a lot of subconscious shit I was working through in the sounds and especially the lyrics.
There was the polyamorous relationship I was in that brought me a lot of joy along with a lot of new confusion. There was the exploration of the boundaries of my primary relationship through the poly-relationship and the other experiences, sanctioned and not sanctioned. There were fights. There were wounds mended and strength gained. There were realizations about myself and my needs when it comes to the people I choose to be intimate (emotionally and physically) with.
Then there was the decision to end the relationship...
That's when Otis [OCnotes] showed up. Otis didn't know anything about what was happening in my relationship when he came to the studio. He heard a song of mine, agreed to write a verse for the end of 'Ostrich,' which became 'Out This Way,' and without me saying shit, he sang: 'So lovely that you called and listened, I love the way you are, I wish it could be different,' and I sat at the control desk and wept. That was when I knew the album was done and asked him if I could name it Lost in Slow Motion from his lyrics.
So, I write shit cryptically and don't want to tell people what I'm saying because I want to convey only feelings, not specific situations.
This e-mail, like the album, was so heartbreakingly beautiful and honest.