Release Date: Mar 10, 2009
Record label: Asthmatic Kitty
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
Shuffling into the queue behind Bon Iver, Andrew Bird, Sufjan Stevens and the rest comes the latest entrant in the Oddball Americana Sweepstakes, David Stith, who's been attracting breathless comparisons to Jeff Buckley. That point of reference is crucially wrong: where Buckley's music gained its sense of ecstasy from very earthly moments of relieved tension, Stith's is all about passion contained. Heavy Ghost is an extraordinarily disciplined album, usually so careful to avoid cheap rapture that the wordless choir at the end of Morning Glory Cloud provides an almost shocking jolt to the senses.
Bloomington, IN’s David Michael Stith—occasional remixer, disciple of Sufjan (who signed him to Asthmatic Kitty), and multi-instrumental etherealist—chose an apt title for his first full-length. Not only is Stith possessed of an otherworldly voice that has a penchant for lamenting wails, but as an album, Heavy Ghost is filled with lingering spirits, shades of things that should have long ago departed for some other existence. A melange of regrets, unfinished thoughts and people working up the courage to do what needs doing, Ghost has the remarkable quality of feeling both barely there and utterly enveloping, an empty house come to life through sounds and melodies of indistinguishable origin.
It’s easy to hear what made Sufjan Stevens want to bring DM Stith to Asthmatic Kitty Records, where he currently resides as the “Minister of Aesthetics”. The fact that Stith is a kindred spirit should be obvious to anyone familiar with Stevens’ work, and his use of hauntingly repetitive piano figures to set moods. Another fellow traveler is Thom Yorke, who explores similar harmonic territory and whose ethereal vocal style is clearly an influence.
Skimming his website, one might get the impression that David Stith, who records as DM Stith, takes his music seriously, but perhaps not that seriously. "Heavy Ghost is streaming in its entirety over at AsthmaticKitty.com!" he blogged recently, alluding to the impending release of his full-length debut. "I recommend steamed potatoes as an accompaniment.
New Asthmatic Kitty member keeps songs coiled tight in symphonicsAfter years of keeping his music close to the vest, David Stith met My Brightest Diamond chanteuse Shara Worden, who ushered the Brooklyn transplant into the Asthmatic Kitty fold—a fitting place for someone whose work echoes Steve Reich’s Music For 18 Musicians even more than Kitty-master Sufjan Stevens. Soon, Stith capitulated on his long-held privacy, yielding last year’s aptly titled teaser EP, Curtain Speech, which showcased classical foundations and (somewhat like Worden herself) a roaming vocal grace that smacked of Jeff Buckley. Speech’s near-eight-minute centerpiece, “Just Once,” scaled and descended symphonic heights with the dreamlike wonder of angels on Jacob’s Ladder, introducing Stith as a songsmith with hooks laid strangely, securely in ethereality.
For a seemingly insubstantial album, when Heavy Ghost by DM Stith sounds like anyone (contemporary) it sounds like the serious heavyweights: Rachel’s (The Sea & Bells), Antony & the Johnsons (The Crying Light), Radiohead (in their genre-hopping moments from the past decade), Bjork’s vocals-only album Medulla. For those who checked out Ribbons’ debut album for laptop & chamber-orchestra, last year, this could be its electronica-free counterpart, but we’re in unusual territory no matter what. DM Stith, briefly, is a protégé of Sufjan Stevens, and an occasional producer for his friend Shara Worden, AKA My Brightest Diamond, who (between them) coaxed him into the studio.
As befits someone whose grandfather was a professor of music and whose dad was the director of a choir, the first album by Brooklyn's David Stith is both outré and celestial. Like a futuristic remake of The Wicker Man, it is all splintered beats and frosty light-night soul, and at best, as on Pity Dance, quite remarkable. .
Music is a beautifully rewarding and satisfying event. It is one of the utmost blessings we could receive as lowly human beings. This is not only because it can enthuse all of our senses with its aesthetic expression but because we can remember how it makes us feel for the rest of our life. And with every passing year comes at least one album— at least one — that can make us feel invigorated and passionate about music like no other album can.