Learning to Fall

The ShiversWhy does an artist set out on a journey to find his own unique language to say the things he needs to say, create two “sister” records early in his career (“More” and “In the Morning,” just a couple of years apart) that together contain 11 perfect songs among others, defining a vocabulary and voice, an astonishing accomplishment in these days of apathy and industry ruin, only to walk alone, deep into a personal wilderness, to search for something even more complex and revealing and experimental after inhabiting the very thing he was searching for since the early 2000s, and found? It’s something outsiders cannot easily decode. More records appeared, of course, each just a little more varied, each circling around similar subject matter and textures, some even changing personas completely.

The ShiversBut the patterns began to shift. Because, in the end, it’s about the burning questions. The questions that keep artists awake all night. The questions that wreck relationships, unquiet the mind, and haunt the escape of sleep. The questions that force the hard things to the surface, the dark things into the light, the dangerous things that can break a man. Artists can’t hide from the burning questions.

And so, the wilderness called, for renewal as much as for new directions or confirmations. What can I say about this artist now, at his latest moment of transformation? About this man, Keith Zarriello, his ever-changing identity as The Shivers, his music that opened The Business Presents music festival in July in Anacortes, WA, the artist who has come to define my longing for a direction for my small record record label, Untide Records, and which haunts my imagination about what might be possible for all his records as yet to be demoed, as yet to be recorded? The ShiversI want to say something to you that no one has ever said about him, something that will crash your world, like his music did mine, and make you see and hear what I see and hear in this artist’s teeming and tormented art. I want to do that, but then… I hesitate, and I don’t. Not here. Not now. I don’t because he’s my friend, but more important than that, vastly more important than that, I don’t because he’s still out there working, and something is changing, something new is coming into being. The wild places haven’t finished with him yet, so all remains speculation.

The ShiversMusic has always been the first art form because it requires no advance study to connect to those it connects to. You just fall into the music you love. If you love the music, if you love the language the artist has discovered for himself, you love it. There’s no need to write long arguments, proofs, about why you love it. You just do. It’s one to one, and remains so. Every song was written for you and it speaks to you as if you’re the only person who gets it, really gets it, because it becomes yours. We want to possess the people who can do this for us. But that isn’t possible, either. They belong to the wild places where their greatest songs are written. They belong to their searching, far away from all of us.

The ShiversOpening night, Keith walked into the venue, picked up his vintage Silvertone, plugged it in, and within minutes tore through his taut set list of songs from his decade-long conversion from novice songwriter to journeyman recording artist. It was a rare moment that felt all the more valuable for its spontaneity, vulnerability, and risk, coming from a man who only briefly stepped out of his wilderness mid pilgrimage. His search continues. The burning questions still have a firm hold on him. Every great songwriter travels this road, again and again. Pays the toll in a kind of existential loneliness and aloneness none of us can even imagine.

There remain many more songs inside this artist that will reveal themselves, in time. One day soon Keith will walk back out of his wild places, reformed as yet another new vision of The Shivers, and his records will literally speak for themselves. And those who know, will know. The music will fall into place, and those who get it, will, once again, feel his new writing is just for them. When the needle drops onto the first track, some of the burning questions will be finally be answered. But fortunately, not all of them.

The Shivers

[Where to find stuff: The Shivers on Soundcloud. The Shivers distro and retail from The Business. The Shivers on Bandcamp.]

Flowers In My Hands: 2014 In Song

What an age we live in. New vinyl records are pouring forth from an ever-expanding roster of Indie record labels. New Indie bands are drowsily springing up in the green fields like wildflowers. Thorny old major labels are waking up to smell the spring-sweet breeze of change, realizing they too can bud anew, reissuing long-missed classics, because we want them. We need them. And why put limit to what you desire? These are just a few of the LPs that have inspired, this discovering year, that have drawn me out of myself, to walk beside crystalline lakes and streams of the mind, into a new, bright sphere of long-playing dreams. As I reflected on the many kinds of lists I might prepare in this fast-fading final month near, I realized how few singles caught my eye in Twenty Fourteen, as forty-five. I wanted pure flame in Fourteen, I wanted my music pastoral and sweeping, I wanted my hands overflowing with bounty from my keeping. So I went for roads measureless, and spent my days dear… side by side, song by song, heart by heart, taking my time to discover and to savor wandering song. As I compiled this list I decided to stick to records that any might buy. Easy it is to love the hidden and the scarce, but it’s vexing indeed to know of beauty one cannot possess. Mine is an accessible bouquet (almost all on vinyl, if one does not delay). You know you miss the romance, the poetry of vinyl. Go on, make Twenty Fifteen the year of your triumphant arrival at what’s real, what’s elemental, what’s personal; what’s haunted, what’s holy, what’s you. Walk into the green, green hills and fields, in self-trusting yield, follow your heart, and find your own dream-plucked flowers new.

Rowland S. Howard: POP CRIMES (Liberation, reissued 2014)

Rowland S. Howard

Bob Dylan & The Band: THE BASEMENT TAPES COMPLETE (Columbia, 2014)

Bob Dylan

Jack White: LAZARETTO (Third Man, 2014)

Jack White

Jimi Hendrix: BLUES (Sony, reissued 2011)

Jimi Hendrix

The Shivers: MORE (Silence Breaks, 2011)

The Shivers

The Shivers: CHARADES (Keeled Scales, reissued 2014)

Charades

The Mastersons: GOOD LUCK CHARM (New West, 2014)

The Mastersons

Fear of Men: LOOM (Kanine, 2014)

Fear of Men

La Sera: HOUR OF THE DAWN (Hardly Art, 2014)

La Sera

Will Johnson: SCORPION (Undertow, 2012)

Will Johnson

Sleater-Kinney: THE WOODS (Sub Pop, reissued 2014)

Sleater-Kinney

Owl John: OWL JOHN (Atlantic, 2014)

Owl John

David Gray: MUTINEERS (iht, 2014)

David Gray

Maximo Park: TOO MUCH INFORMATION (V2, 2014)

Maximo Park

Various Artists: WHILE NO ONE WAS LOOKING: TOASTING 20 YEARS OF BLOODSHOT RECORDS (Bloodshot, 2014)

Various Artists