Not enough musicians know what to do with white space. 200 Years do. The band give power to the quiet moments, letting the lulls where nothing is happening weigh heavily. This is what happens when we put aside all the noise and just inhabit the spaces in between for a little while.
Elisa Ambrogia (of fuzz rockers Magik Markers) teamed with guitarist Ben Chasney (whose main gig is in Six Organs of Admittance) to make the quietest (and possibly most interesting) album in a long while. The songs speak softly, asking you lean in to listen closely and reward you when you do. The sound is ineffable, like the heaviness to the silence that greets you in the city after a fresh snow.
The production pushes intimacy beyond the point where you feel like the band is in the room with you to where you feel like you are buried deep somewhere in the hollow of Chasney’s guitar, Ambrogia’s sweetly hoarse voice drifting in to you past the strings, through the soundhole. The songs are spare to the point of straining. There is little else other than Chasney’s acoustic guitar strumming and plucking (his playing is much more simple here than on recent Six Organs albums) and Amrogia’s voice. The occasional breath of a harmonium, tinkle of piano, Chasney’s every-so-often harmonizing vocals, squall of white noise, minimal electric guitar and pockets of reverb fill out the mood in places.
Contrary to what you might expect on an album full of sounds this airy, the songs are quite sturdy constructions, with melodies that draw you further into the them and make the songs stick with you after. Without this grounding, abstractions such as the line “It takes a little time/ to design the stars around the moon,” on the opener “Wild White” might threaten to float off into nowhere and leave you thinking about a dream you once had about Wallace Stevens.
Certainly not all the lyrics are quite so astral. The duo’s ode to their Connecticut home town starts, “West Hartford/ waste the day/ hate to see the sun going down that way/ nothing good to say/ I leave town but I never get away.” And the dark “City Streets” ends with the cheery, “These streets only go one way or dead end/ as these dreams circle down the drain/ they say it’s going to kill you/ but they don’t say when.”
Still, even while delivering such downbeat words, Ambrogia never sounds morose. She is by no means an agile vocalist, and these songs are not demanding, but she gets everything possible out of her voice. For example on the spare “Solar System,” Ambrogia intones “In my solar system/ gravity won’t take,” and you are not sure if its’ meant to be plaintiff or hopeful. She delivers lines throughout the album with a vibrancy, shifting her phrasing to hit the rhythm at moments, and lifting what is a generally somber affair to quietly anthemic heights.