”Fallen thoughts/ On the ground/ And I lost the one thing I thought I found/ I’m home bound/ If it’s still there/ If you care.”
Certain music arrives to us fresh and free from time’s easy markers; sounds and scenarios shimmering with a beauty and pertinence that resonates with today and tomorrow while gamely chattering with the past. San Diego’s The Midnight Pine possess a delicate, heart-sore timelessness of this sort, their gently grasping hands and clear eyes wringing emotion from a consciously sculpted, whisper rock intimacy, where the trio clearly listens to one another, each rise and fall a shared breath that makes one inhale and exhale with deeper gulps.
Skirting sicknesses and possessions, The Midnight Pine hums on the same wavelength as John Martyn, Bridget St. John, and modern practitioners like Wooden Wand and Daniel Martin Moore. However, what their contemporaries lack is the achingly seductive voice of singer Shelbi Bennett, whose personal, intuitive phrasing and exceedingly warm tone recall a time before talent competitions and focus groups determined what being a good vocalist meant. Place Bennett somewhere between Beth Orton and Zooey Deschanel and you’ve got a sense of the shivers this lady induces – and for the Impound’s money we’ll take her over either of those touchstones, particularly when she swings on a classic pop moon, her voice lifting one’s heels, a wind of human construction that blows away the dead leaves and dried scabs we carry around in the long, black bag we drag behind us.
Paired with the empathetic envelopment of Heavy Guilt members Sean Martin (guitars) and Alfred Howard (lyricist, percussion), the whole is country road sweet and ruminative late night bittersweet. The three have crafted a debut, Awake Now (BUY) (LISTEN), that’s haunting in a way that suggests an instant cult classic; the sort of record Devendra Banhart would give Vashti Bunyan to make her smile and sigh.
We asked Al Howard to apply his supple, lovely-strange mind to DI’s quasi-philosophical questions, and as with all things Al, he knocked it out with style.
Name: Alfred Howard
Band(s): The Heavy Guilt, The Midnight Pine, The Black Sands & Rebecca Jade and the Cold Fact
Nicknames: Hey you with the afro
What’s the first thing that springs to mind when you see the word “God”?
I simultaneously go to the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” and Monsters of Folk’s “Dear God.” A part of my mind thinks of a video of Coltrane live in Japan, where steam rises from his being as he plays totally transcended sonic flurries. My God is music and love. I’ve seen God bloom incandescent on stages in Friday night dive bars, in the eyes of a woman I love, in a kid buying dollar records at the shop I work at, in my mother’s smile, and in a mirror when I recall the power of the individual to sculpt worlds.
Which has the better cosmology, Star Wars or Star Trek? Why?
I gotta say Star Wars ‘cause I never spent a lot of time with the Trek. Yoda drops insights left and right that planted seeds when I was very little and remained relevant. I haven’t sat with the trilogy in years and apparently I need to revisit it soon. But I find myself saying, “There is no try there is only do,” a lot.
Name one album that has spiritual resonance for you.
Radiohead’s OK Computer hit me at a point in my life where I stood at the crossroads of who I was and who I am. I was experimenting with a lot of life at the time that album came out. Sonically, it has the capacity to take my closed eyes to places unknown and the thoughts and epiphanies that album conjured shaped me immensely. Even before I knew the words, there is just a sound and resonance that literally catapults my consciousness. It’s sad, ethereal, cornered, frenzied, poetic, bleak and as much as it frames a still current and real dystopia, I hear hope in there.
Woody Allen once said, “I don’t know the question but sex is definitely the answer.” So, what’s the question?
When’s the last time you saw God?
You can have a dinner party with any three people throughout human history. Who do you invite, what’s on the menu and what intoxicant do you share for dessert?
Laughter and conversation is the intoxicant. The truth is that I’d probably invite people I already know, some of the musicians I play with are the closest individuals and most interesting people I’ve met, but often we only spend rehearsals and gigs together. But for the sake of appearing interesting, I’ll say myself, Townes Van Zandt, Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen. The menu is sushi ‘cause my record store wages do not allot for nearly enough, and the desert will be chocolate chip peanut butter cookies with macadamia nuts and a maple syrup base.