I must say, there are few things I love more than seeing one of my favorite musicians through the kaleidoscope lens of multiple, very different projects. I guess the first instance that pops to mind is Maynard James Keenan of Tool, A Perfect Circle and Puscifer fame, but I’m not going to talk about his work today. Rather, I’d love to focus on one of Carla Kihlstedt’s projects, called Tin Hat, formerly known as Tin Hat Trio and, for a short while, Tin Hat Quartet. I first heard Carla’s wonderful, distinctive voice and violin playing in the Sleepytime Gorilla Museum juggernaut of avant-garde rock. Later, I discovered The Book of Knots, a super-group of sorts (although I’d rather call it a collective, in the same vein as the French avant-garde of the 20th Century; by the way, they released an amazing album this year, but more on that another day). Following the threads led me to Tin Hat, and now I’m simply smitten.
There’s a certain refined, cerebral gentleness about Carla’s singing and playing, no matter how fierce the overall tone of the music. The Sleepytime Gorilla Museum albums prove that very well – but I never expected to come across such a treasure trove of whimsical, heartfelt, deeply theatrical and playful music from any of her projects. To my shame, I must admit that Tin Hat isn’t even a sort of fluke or minor offshoot of creativity – it’s one of her main efforts, in constant effervescence since 1999. I get the odd feeling that the projects I had associated with her until now are the offshoots themselves. In any case, Tin Hat is one of the greatest musical finds of the year for me, making me feel a bit overwhelmed at my luck so far.
Walking down the street early this morning, with the half-asleep faces of the occasional passers by oozing past through my field of vision, this music made me feel like I was walking through an entirely different city, as if everything was slightly off center, as if all of the buildings suddenly seemed much older, and yet more fresh. It was a feeling I hadn’t felt since I was a kid and was reading Mary Poppins – I felt as though I had entered one of her vanishing alleys, which will not only never look the same again, but never even be there, after a while. It was as though I had somehow fallen through some sort of subtle fissure, through my own age and into another, subterranean time, much like Neil Gaiman’s characters from the novel Neverwhere. I half expected someone to mistakenly drench me in tepid bathwater, from a wash basin, from the third floor of a turn-of-the-century building, naturally feeling terribly sorry and inviting me for tea and a place in their last will and testament. In other words, this is not so much music, as it is time travel and volatile fuel for the imagination.
I can’t place it in any genre. It’s acoustic, I can say that much. It’s one of those things that needs a new word, while evoking many familiar things. It’s the lifting veil of comfort, as the strange and wonderful peers back, right from where you thought it wasn’t. It’s a dance in Bulgakov’s dreams, savoring sadness with relish and caressing joy with witty detachment. It’s a gust of frozen wind in an otherwise sun baked month of October, chasing away the scent of roasted chestnuts and leaving only ozone and a feeling of sudden wakefulness in the afternoon. This is music which comes once a year and leaves when the winds change direction. I recommend you inhale it rather than simply listen. It’s easier than you think – it’s just as willing to go there as the air (or water, for that matter, so don’t get too comfy). Enjoy!