Sam Logan, the founder of the Durham quartet Lilac Shadows, had not yet finished recording his eight-song cycle, No Dark/No Light, when his bandmate Nathan Price suggested a novel record-release strategy: Send the record to their many artist friends, be they poets, painters or graphic designers. Ask them to listen and respond with their own artwork.
The visuals would form an art exhibit that would launch the record to the public. The art would adorn limited-edition cassette versions of the record. It would tweak the standard-issue party format and offer listeners a one-of-a-kind takeaway. Plus, it was cheap. Why not?
Logan didn't exactly leap at the idea. Cassette tapes were a popular music-listening format that peaked in the '80s. Despite their resurgence in certain niches during the last decade, how many people even have a working tape deck? Can you tell your parents your band is having a cassette release party in 2014? Turns out, it's easy enough to include a unique code with the cassette that leads to a proper ones-and-zeroes download of the album. Plus the cassette would provide a little slice of art to commemorate the evening. Logan, then, warmed to the novelty.
Once he, Price, drummer Reed Benjamin (who is the INDY's office and sales assistant) and bassist Brian Corum finished mixing the album with lauded producer Mitch Easter, they began putting out feelers to area artists. More than two dozen friends committed to the project. Last weekend, the curious packed Durham gallery The Carrack for an event that was part art opening, part record-release show and part coming-out party for Lilac Shadows, an act with an intriguing and individual approach to very familiar motifs.
No Dark/No Light makes its celestial intent clear with the opener "Occidental Oceans." The song begins with a heartbeat cadence that gives way to a sense of cavernous acoustics, pulling listeners into a psych-rock excursion. But such expectations are upended one song later with "Tunnels," which chugs into a motorik groove and adds spy-movie guitar. Over the course of the record, Logan refuses to settle into a single mood, preferring to roil through '60s psychedelia escapes and '80s shoegaze textures, urgent indie rock and even ballad-like reverie. No Dark/No Light doesn't drift into hodgepodge indecision; as the sequence unfolds, with the moods twisting and shifting, the closer, "Drone," reprises that initial heartbeat. The cycle feels wonderfully complete.
Such musical shifts offer a visual artist plenty to ponder. But looking around the Carrack at Saturday night's opening, the results felt akin to a situation where all the artists had ingested the same drugs and shared several visions. The commonality among the works suggested not the dark-light binary of the title but instead a sense of endless and hypnotic expansion, tessellation, fractalization and repetition. Not all of the works were pattern-centric—David Eichenberger's pen-and-ink drawing of a bee with a light-emitting amulet, for example, was a strikingly corporeal image. But there were a lot of patterns.
The diversity of formats and materials better fit the record's sprawl of styles: Ann Tilley used needlepoint to stitch herringbone motifs marked with the bright pink words "FULL-ON MELTDOWN," and Thomas Dean's computer-generated patterns in fluorescent hues incorporated wave forms and Op Art elements. Most affecting—and not only because it was one of the two largest works—was Kelly Kye's untitled grid-like piece, which consisted of hundreds of square cloth swatches arranged in color gradations. The work demanded to be seen both up close and from a distance.
But the room became so full during Saturday night's opening that getting a good look at the artwork could be a challenge. A person who stumbled into the gallery drawn in by the manipulated guitar waves of Matt Northrup or the blistering post-punk of Midnight Plus One probably wouldn't have known that the pictures on the wall meant anything to the music.
Fortunately, the art will remain up for another two weeks. By then, the limited-edition cassettes will most likely be gone, and Lilac Shadows will get down to the basic business of being a band.
Label: DiggUp Tapes
This article appeared in print with the headline "Installations and end points."