Live @ The Rock Shop
Friday, Dec. 2, 2011
The ten songs that eventually ended up Little Scream’s debut album, The Golden Record, Laurel Sprengelmeyer had been carrying around for ten years. It took excommunication from her family’s faith, following a boyfriend from Iowa to Montreal, and, once there, discovering and becoming a part of the fertile Canadian music scene that allowed whatever had been turning over and crafting itself inside to wind out into 46.6 minutes of temporal art. The name of the project comes from a parallel kind of expedition through entropy—the “golden records” are the albums Carl Sagan sent into space on the Voyager, recordings of earth sounds (human music included) in order to communicate with unknown life. Sprengelmeyer had been touring consistently in support of the album since late 2010, but Friday night’s intimate show at the Rock Shop would be the last, for a while. To the band, it felt like the end of something.
It’s impossible and wrong to point out things like “salvation” and “grace” as tangible qualities of music. However, what is apparent, and what was on Friday, was a performance by someone who had sought and found them through it.
Little Scream’s music relies on an intense and sensitive emotional train, measured mostly in sudden shifts in dynamics. Her voice, plain but expressive, can go from a kind of whisper-warble to full-throated projection at any moment. So can her fingerpicking on the electric (refined by fluttering melodies from bass flutist Jess Robertson) shift to a cranked out, triumphant and distorted jam. Vocal melodies and harmonies, shared with Sprengelmeyer by guitarist and producer Marcus Paquin, Robertson and percussionist Adam Luksetich could transition from what resembled a pastoral gospel choir to something suddenly minor, chilling and dark. Slow-building, layered tracks like “Amahl” got the abridged treatment, while other rockier songs like “Red Hunting Jacket” were treated to extended trips. All the while, Sprengelmeyer bobbed—eyes at times shut tight, at times fixed on the back wall—and rocked, in maybe what can only be described as davening, to conviction. The rest of the band shared it too, shaking and stomping through moments of uncertainty and noise, like when Sprengelmeyer scratched at the fretboard, or plinked her pick across the high and deadened strings on the headstock.
There’s a certain kind of danger in allowing oneself to be saved by music. To love and connect with sound created by another person can create expectations, one of them being that that person was truly and nobly motivated to express and communicate things worth hitching your feelings to. The danger is feeling like an idiot once that music maker abandons your taste and sonic values for something you feel is alienating, or simply meeting that person and finding out he or she is a jerk. But the opposite is true too. I have held The Golden Record close, and many times on repeat, since it came out. I also subscribe to an easily mockable kind of idealism that says great art has all to do with intentions. But when I interviewed Sprengelmeyer earlier that day for an L Mag video segment, she basically said what anyone could want to hear from a musician—that her intent is to communicate, that it has as much to do with the spirit of the people playing it as any technical groove. Also, yes, she believes she finds something higher in it.
Little Scream’s performance on Friday was a show and not-telling of everything one might want to believe about art—that somehow one individual’s pain or interiority can be translated into something relatable, even into existential comfort. It might have been the end of the tour in one sense, but in another there’s relish in the pause. Sprengelmeyer said she’s immediately ready to get working on another album. Now will be the anticipation of flipping over the golden record to hear what’s on the other side.