Thursday, July 19, 2018

Listen/Watch: Saintseneca - "Ladder to the Sun"

photo by Nick Fancher
When Columbus, Ohio folk pop collective Saintseneca previewed their upcoming fourth full length album Pillar of Na with first single "Frostbiter" the most immediately noticeable thing was the synths. While Saintseneca are no strangers to the use of synths having utilized them on previous album Such Things, there was a level of prominence that seemed a little jarring. Known for their harmonic mesh of various exotic string instruments, "Frostbiter" saw singer/songwriter Zac Little expanded the band's textural palette as he experimented with sounds not typically associated with folk. The result was a shimmering, found sound featuring ballad that hinted at an assortment of new compositional options for the band.

"Ladder to the Sun", however, places the band right back into their exuberant, infectious folk pop. Unsurprisingly, for as much as Little struggled with the creation of much of Pillar of Na, "Ladder to the Sun" sprung forth from him pretty easily. Some of that frustration - of continuously trying different options and trying to make sense of ideas that are floating around you make their way into the song. When I first heard "Ladder to the Sun", I was immediately taken with how the lyrics had a sort of conversational, stream of consciousness quality to them. They didn't entirely feel like they belonged to different songs but Little had little problem interrupting himself to offer up another thought. The songs is a casual glide through ideas - beginning at first as self-given eulogy: "Tell my sister when I'm gone, I built a ladder to the Sun" before Little focuses on the present. Where "Frostbiter" was an amalgamation of memories and anecdotes - both his and others, "Ladder to the Sun" is a somewhat more assertive criticism of memory and who dictates what that is. "Who says you're right?" Little and band continuous ask and while it's delivery never reaches a tone of confrontation, it's does express a sincere amount of doubt about who gets to dictate what is happening in the moment. It's a song filled with these little moments of truth-seeking that are wonderfully presented.

Little asks questions but seems less concerned with definitive answers and more the feeling that accompanies those questions - the chasm of either doubt or bridge of certainty those questions open up. Another curious moment - probably the more so than anything else that happens in the song's rather short duration is between right before the recap both of the chorus and the song's initial phrase is a one-and-done moment Little affords himself. "I did the best you can, you did the best I can", Little sings and that moment - essentially defining the self through another is so strangely wonderful. It's ambiguous at best but feeds into the song's main theme of someone other than the self getting to tell the story; to set the parameters and provide context.

The video for the single, directed by Jon Washington and Little himself, introduces the "Ladder to the Sun" as an actual concrete thing and Little spends the video's duration chasing it. The ladder proves to me more of a concept than a thing you actually want to come in contact with though as Little finds when he grabs the ladder and experiences both an intense psychedelic vision and what looks like a great deal of pain. There's subtle references to Pillar of Na itself - "Moon Barks At Dog", and the strawberry heart from the album cover but the star of the video is the ladder that Little pursues with a hunter's acumen. It's hardly surprisingly "Ladder to the Sun" was a moment of catharsis for Little considering how effortlessly and swift the ideas both lyrically and visually the ideas seem to come from it. "Ladder to the Sun" may end up being the outlier in terms of a sprightly folk pop jam but it's certainly appreciated.

Saintseneca's fourth full length album Pillar of Na is out August 31st on ANTI-. Pre-order the record now.

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