Review: Salt

Words and images produced on the occasion of the release of the third studio album by Ben Cosgrove, 29, late of Northern New England and, sometimes, of nowhere in particular

I could phone in some hack copy about Salt, the new album from peripatetic performer slash composer slash environmental journalist Ben Cosgrove:

Imagine Brian Eno, Yann Tiersen, and Bernie Krause, heading west on I-90 in a Toyota Tercel wagon afflicted with rusty wheel wells but otherwise known to “run good” by the backwoods Maine mechanic who, after much haggling, settled on a nice, round price point that all parties found to be generally fair and reasonable. Imagine Eno, Tiersen, and Krause, heading west, listening to a mixtape of Erik Satie’s greatest hits that’s been stuck in the cassette deck ever since Eno first plucked it from the bottom of a discount bin at a truck stop way back in McKean, just outside Erie. 

Imagine, a few hours after crossing into Montana, somewhere in the short, dry stretch between Billings and Bozeman, this trio, freighted with portable devices designed for both the production and reproduction of aural phenomena, pulling off the interstate and wandering up a dusty road a few miles into the hills to find an agreeable spot to settle down for the night. Eventually, Krause cuts the engine, adjusts his seat back, and rolls a cigarette, while Eno and Tiersen scavenge kindling for a small fire. The combination of new moon and cloudless sky—the first clear evening since they left the Atlantic coast—affords a full panoramic view of the stars and slow-moving satellites and more substantial articles of space junk that continue to accrue in Earth’s orbit.

Tiersen, whose knowledge of constellation nomenclature and attendant classical mythology is intimate and deep, uses the outstretched forefinger of his right hand to connect the dots for his terrestrially-inclined companions: Cepheus, Perseus, Cassiopeia, Cancer—the last his personal favorite of the springtime Northern Hemisphere, not so much because Cancer is the astrological sign under which he was born but because he still finds it amusing that the five stars outlining a crooked upside-down ‘Y’ look nothing like a goddamned crab. Krause grows tired of Tiersen’s astrobabble and shushes him. Listen, Krause says. Listen.

Imagine Eno, Tiersen, and Krause, laying out under the great western sky, listening. To dry leaves of grass rustled by a warm southerly breeze. To the pops and cracks and hisses of a slowly smoldering campfire. To the industrial buzzing and clicking and fast rhythmic pulses of stridulating insects. To the distant hoots and howls and overtoned squeals of skulking nocturnal beasts. And to their own breathing, grunting, digesting, scratching, shifting, heart-beating bodies. Listen.

But who would listen to the album after reading such nonsense? Besides, Cosgrove doesn’t compose songs with words. His music is supraverbal, a poetry of tones and turns and motion and play that transcends the gross signification of everyday language. The closest we get are traces of whispers, shards of voice. Listen again: it’s Wendell Berry, rendered in broken, overlapping plosives and fricatives.

Words will not suffice. Were I a better musician, still callous-tipped and swift-jointed and in full control of the precise expansion and contraction of the laryngeal muscles, this review would be music. Interpretation and critical analysis delivered in pure sound. Alas. It’s not audio; it’s visual. Ten portraits of ten listeners upon their first encounter with the ten tracks of Salt.

Cosgrove’s music is about landscape, about place, about space. It reacts and responds and reflects and resonates space. It creates and transforms space. This album, specifically, is about instability, uncertainty, liminality, disorientation. It’s about the unhinged feeling that comes from losing the solid ground on which one has comfortably and complicitly stood for too long, about the realization that the safety provided by such footholds is always illusory, and about learning to live with the shifting, floating impermanence that was there (and not there), enveloping us all along. It’s a break-up album. And it’s also a salve. Like Berry’s kicker:

Seed will sprout in the scar.
Though death is in the healing, it will heal.

And so, lost for words, scarred and in search of salve, I, too, took to the road. To a collage studio high above a lake in the Northeast Kingdom. To a tea hut and a coffee shop in the hills of Central Vermont. To the campus of a quintessential New England college. To a lamb roast on a farm in the eastern foothills of the Green Mountains. To the birthday celebration of a Gemini bubble master. To a renaissance railroad town at the confluence of the Connecticut and the White. To a Red Hook sculpture enclave in mid-metamorphosis.

I photographed others as they listened. They listened while wearing headphones, an intimate sonic engagement both isolating and immersive, private and public, personal and impersonal. Later, I listened to the same tracks as I processed and edited and prepared the images for circulation via the magic glass cables and ethereal frequencies that translate and transport it all onto the screen at which you currently stare. Reflections of reflections of reflections. Look, and listen. This is what we heard:

 

Track #01 “Champlain”
Victoria Duenes || Black Family Visual Arts Center || Hanover, NH

 

Track #02 “Break”
Matt Brown || Sanborn Library || Hanover, NH

 

Track #03 “Pine”
Dr. Ken Raj Leslie || Gemini Birthday Party || Norwich, VT

 

Track #04 “Salt”
Elizabeth Manriquez || Espresso Bueno || Barre, VT

 

Track #05 “Let”
Mila Pinigin || Revolution || White River Junction, VT

 

Track #06 “Landfall”
Ben Youngbaer || Setting Sun Teahut || Plainfield, VT

 

Track #07 “Slip”
Vanessa Compton || Krinshaw Studios || Greensboro, VT

 

Track #08 “Oxbow”
Tom Beale || Red Hook Compound || Brooklyn, NY

 

Track #09 “Kennebec”
Jeremy Ebersole || Stitchdown Farm || Bethel, VT

 

Track #10 “Glass”
Josh Urban Davis || Gates Street outside the Hotel Coolidge || White River Junction, VT


About the Author/Photographer: James Napoli is the founder and editor-in-chief of Junction.

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