Sinai Vessel’s latest album, Ground Aswim, continues to showcase Tennessee songwriter Caleb Cordes’ desire for his ever-expanding horizons to be manifested in his music.
With the Sinai Vessel name now representing a more singular-vision project than on previous efforts, the new record surprises by serving up slowly ruminating rhythms and sparse soundscapes that give grounding to the sentiments on open display. Harder edges and tilted timings creep into some songs, recalling 2017 album Brokenlegged – but the latest effort has a charm and honesty all of its own, owing to its stripped-back construction and being the more single-minded vision of Cordes.
He spoke to Secret Meeting about some of the influences and inspirations he carries into his music and more…
Three albums I love
Luke Temple – Both-and
Ok. I’m so glad someone is allowing me space to talk about Luke Temple’s Both-and. It’s a record that, for the past year, has been my constant go-to when someone asks me for music recommendations. It’s an easy answer, because so dreadfully few people have heard it, but it’s so worth all of my friends hearing. This record — and Luke Temple’s incredible discography in general — was first shared with me by my best friend / former SV bass player / present Ground Aswim canvas artist Daniel Hernandez. We were in his car, in the desert, and on a two week camping trip in Utah that took place smack between my move out of my home in Chattanooga and my brand new venture into living in Nashville, so I was swimming in chaos and newness and excitement and primed for some wonderful thing to sneak up on me. Both-and did just that. It’s one of those records that’s like a close friend about whom I consistently think, ‘I can’t believe I’m so close with this person — I didn’t know I could be close to this kind of person.’ It’s slippery — it’s a record that gives me what I want, what I didn’t know I wanted, and a whole lot of surprises otherwise. I don’t want to bother with describing what it sounds like sonically — I’d rather you just let it take you for a ride.
Fairport Convention – Liege and Lief
In speaking of records that sneak up on you, let’s talk about Fairport Convention’s Liege and Lief. It’s a record I can’t even recall finding, but one I’ve had an almost exclusively private relationship for so long. Maybe it was cast into my life from some algorithmic combination of my Jackson C. Frank and Sibylle Baier play counts, but I can’t be sure. It doesn’t matter — I love this album. It’s pulled from an era of music history wherein ‘folk’ and ‘rock’ were truly separate spheres, when allowing the two to meet was heresy on either side. This record joins the two after dark in some kind of forbidden, revelatory tryst. It sounds naughty, like rules are being broken all the time in its capturing. I was first hooked by Come All Ye — the tone of each individual element in that song feels like the best possible musical recording of that instrument. The guitars bark in a way I’ve never heard, the drums have a thump that feel wildly physical, and Sandy Denny’s voice is otherworldly and commanding in its invitation to join the party. The record that follows is a wild occasion — go back in time with it and see where you end up.
H Hunt – Playing Piano For Dad
I first heard H Hunt’s Playing Piano For Dad right when I needed it. During a break from our marathon live sessions recording Ground Aswim in Silsbee, Texas, drummer Andrew Stevens wordlessly put this on the studio monitors as we wrapped cables and moved microphones. It was an immediate emotional and sonic palate cleanser. It’s some of the most universally nourishing background music I can imagine — it immediately made me so happy, and does still. The title is a direct description — the record contains only solo improvised piano pieces, performed at an inoffensive, living-room volume, but with enough playfulness so as to make an intimately knowing audience smile, even laugh. The pieces move like conversation, and graciously allow for dipping in and out of direct attention — rewarding you for leaning in, and pleasantly accompanying you with the muffled dialogue of beloved company when you lean away. Put it on while you’re cooking or cleaning and find bliss.
One film I love
Mystery Train is a Jim Jarmusch film about Memphis, and it was recommended to me during a stay in Memphis by my Memphis-dwelling filmmaker friend (and former Pillow Talk tourmate) Joshua Cannon. Josh is one of those rare souls that generously hands over the keys to all the art he loves, and his enthusiasm has yet to steer me wrong. When he sends me home with a DVD and a ‘you’ll love this one,’ I trust him. Mystery Train is slow in the way I absolutely love and prefer movies to be, but uses that pace to be disarmingly funny and deeply charming. It’s because of the long pauses and silent spaces that you get to know the overlapping characters so well and so quickly — and the spirit of Memphis city streets is as much of a player as any. I’ve never got a sense of place the way I do with this film — so many productions take place in some abstracted movieland that always fails to feel like someplace I could really touch. This one takes place on a real, accessible plane, and so much of it feels like pre-packaged Memphis air. It’s lovely. Watch with a friend.
One book I love
Michael Ondaatdje – Coming Through Slaughter
I first read Michael Ondaatje’s Coming Through Slaughter in the thick of my (failed) college years, wherein my syllabi were filled to the gills with postmodern literature. It was a lot of wonderful stuff, but it’s all proved to hit much harder outside of the realm of assigned obligation. My reading habit regularly features pulling one of those inherited titles off the shelves for a fresh experience, and Coming Through Slaughter blew my mind earlier this year. It’s unfathomable to me that this book was first published in 1976! It still feels radical and challenging and enthralling by any contemporary standard. It’s a book that allows the disjointed nature of the insanity it addresses to infect the very format of the prose, which is often jarringly fragmented and impressionistic. Somehow, though, for all it leaves out, what’s left feels more deeply true than most anything I’ve read. Knowing anyone — and much less a character as deeply troubled as protagonist Buddy Bolden — is a difficult task, a sorting-through of projections and misunderstandings about someone’s humanity. This book allows you to grapple with that difficulty, and earn your empathy — and thus your friendship with the characters can be allowed to lift off of the page.
One song that’s important
Arbor Labor Union – Tears From Your Skin
I think Tears From Your Skin may be my favourite song. It’s one I listen to when I’m exhausted with listening. It’s overwhelmingly positive, triumphant, inclusive — all such rare values to find in music, and to find substantially. Arbor Labor Union is one of an extremely small set of rock musicians that are wholly dedicated to the pursuit and exercise of joy in sound, and I am consistently more joyful for it. It’s not ‘everything is ok’ music, not ‘you’ll be alright’ music, but a ‘come and join the dance’ music —one wherein there’s embarrassment and pain and uncertainty, but so much freedom on the other side. I feel like a very powerful human being every time I listen to this song. I want you to feel it too!
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