Cory Smythe - Circulate Susanna

Label: Pyroclastic records, 2018

Personnel - Cory Smythe: piano, autoharp, electronics; Daniel Lippel: detuned acoustic guitar, electronics; Sofia Jernberg: vocals.


Pianist Cory Smythe, an experimental visionary artist who has collaborated with Tyshawn Sorey, Ingrid Laubrock, and Peter Evans, releases his first album as a bandleader. For that purpose, he convenes the quirky guitarist Daniel Lippel, a bandmate in the International Contemporary Ensemble, and the groundbreaking vocalist Sofia Jernberg, a key member in Mats Gustafsson’s The End. Circulate Susanna, heavily inspired by the violent words of Stephen Forster’s “Oh, Susanna”, comprises a set of microtonal studies that convey perplexity and a touch of fear.

The extraordinary strangeness of Smythe’s formula prods and baits the listener, following bizarre circular trajectories that, pushing boundaries, feel uncomfortably dystopian.

Valid examples of what was described above are “Susanna Soil Flutter”, whose foreboding vibes communicate dissonantly with jagged chants in its piercing, wailing, and guttural forms; “Ladies Load the Telegraph” stealthily brings obscure undercurrents conjured up by rolled, birdlike vocalizations, low notes on the piano, and vehement guitar plucks and scratches; “Circulate Susanna”, whose angular pianism incites Jernberg to mutate her voice; and also “Heads Circulate to Mole”, in which guitar and piano synchronize in an odd way to establish another enigmatic soundscape.

Circulate to Mole” offers detuned guitar bends, which serve as platforms for the clamorous, flickering vocal projection of the singer. If this piece openly embraces an oblique avant-country, then “Reverse Soil Flutter” ends up covered in dense layers of sound that bring forth a psych rock-inflected expressionism.

Among my favorite tracks are “Heads Gather The Stars” and “To Gather The Wind”. The former behaves like an unearthly operetta, running with tweaky, dreamlike intonations due to aerial guitar slides and gloomy piano; while the latter applies fragmented lyrics from “Strange Fruit”, earning chamber contours due to Lippel’s bowed guitar.

This spine-chilling opus reflects a chimeric ambiguity charged with phantasmagoria. It's terrifying, definitely risk-taking, and not like anything you’ve heard before. It might not get an immediate positive impact, though, due to its uncanny nature.

Grade  B-

Grade B-

Favorite Tracks:

02 - Circulate to Mole ► 07 - Heads Gather The Stars ► 13 - To Gather The Wind