DM Stith DM StithHeavy Ghost Appendices
There aren’t many artists around who provide their staunchest fans with albums whose sole purpose is to give them orgasms that last an hour or an hour and a half. Compilations of B-sides, oddities, live performances, and even discarded tracks also have their own mythology and idiosyncrasy. Various fallacies come to mind, such as, only artists who are already established, or who have lengthy careers can put out B-sides compilations. That these B-sides have value in and of themselves and automatically rise in value at record shows, in import shops, or divide and multiply in lots of strange editions with photocopied covers that cost their weight in gold in tacky stores or the worst little street stand. And then, of course, there are those who think that if their favourite artist has put out a few B-sides, they absolutely have to buy them, because everything that their favourite artist has put on sale has come out of Karl Lagerfeld’s ass and is pure gold. Let’s not forget the good part: there are groups that have made their own versions and discards into a real catalogue apart, a point of reference that is almost conceptual, I’d say (look at The Smiths and forget Morrissey’s last B-Sides phase). So, depending on how things go, not everything justifies a prejudice that is more destructive than the last five Hollywood catastrophe films.Getting to the point, David Michael Stith (or DM Stith) seems to have wanted to put out a deluxe edition of B-sides that someone with only a few EP’s and one LP ( “Heavy Ghost,” 2009) could only get (and squeeze), by doing a cleaning job like your mother would by throwing out your school books while you were out. Mr. Stith has stuffed 22 cuts in (laugh about Sufjan Stevens’s “The Avalanche” and its 21 songs); there is everything from the expected discards to versions of his own and others’ songs, as well as remixes of all kinds. As I said at the beginning, his fans will be thrilled. Other creators see the train of inspiration go by once every four or five years. So for the time being, we hereby declare high and low: we have a prolific new author among us.
The obsession with showing off experiments and playing with music seems to be a old side effect in DM Stith’s life. Born into a family where everyone has something to do with music—his father directs choirs and orchestras, his grandfather is an emeritus professor in the music department at Cornell University, his mother is a pianist, and his sisters sing opera (we don’t know if they are overweight). When he moved to Brooklyn, he met Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond, and she introduced him to the (ubiquitous) Sufjan Stevens, who could even convince two preachers from a town in the middle of nowhere to record an album (The Welcome Wagon), and nothing less would happen with Stith.
The first “Heavy Ghost” was a promising group of restful compositions with just the right pinch of sound experimentation to be liked by folkies and by the larger indie public. Now, with this double second part, “Heavy Ghost Appendices”, we see in general a wrinkled corset on the floor and electronic hair let down and fluttering in the wind. We clearly see his choices and cumulonimbus references, at the same time as an avalanche of remixes on CD 2 slays us with sneaky beats. There are instrumentals (all of the “Lacuna”), demos (in “BMB,” where Stith dresses up like a classicised Antony Hegarty, a cut that beats the original thanks to the echo, the choruses, and the disturbing atmosphere), and versions (like that of David Byrne “A Soft Seduction”, a Disney film song, although with a production that doesn’t mix song and orchestration with a pizza-maker’s cunning). There is division between the versions. The cover of Diane Cluck, “Easy to Be Around”, dark and dramatic, transforms the original song and turns into a frayed doll here. The supposedly dance version of “Around the Lion Legs” is really its nudist counterpart, full of blurry gospel organs, and “Pigs”, which has a collaboration with a so-called Jefferson Street Band, is a pure madness of rhythm and drums, just the opposite of Lhasa’s style a year ago. We even find that Randy Newman’s “Suzanne” can be improved by the incorporation of choruses. And what can I say about “Be My Baby”, the hit of The Ronettes, phantasmal and with the constipated throat of Neil Young?... In all of the versions, something is contributed or spoiled (except in “Thanksgiving Moon”, an interesting drive between piano and guitar chords, almost a saloon blues, which stays practically the same here). There is also a place for service stations, or for resting along the way, like in “Braid of Voices” (“brass version” it’s called, without the eternal final fadeout and noise, much better like this).
In summary, does DM Stith have the talent for us to say that this compilation of B-side is a must-have, even for those who are unfamiliar with his work? Well, the truth is that I don’t think that that was his intention, either. Although anything could happen if it were to occur to him to take out the minutes of noise and half-empty instrumental progressions, and the random too-crazy version. And a second CD that is like the last cut of the first one, the song “I Heart Wig”, a duo with I Heart Lung, a mute seven-minute piece without an evident narrative, which is the schizoid version of the 2009 original. Too many changes in a marriage of convenience. So many remixes can be confusing, and first you have to decide whether DM Stith has an electronic chip implanted in his heart, or rather, on the contrary, he has the musical soul of a parish priest. In any case, I think that the initial debate regarding B-sides has its answer already, for the moment. Jordi Guinart