Dana Schechter is one of this era’s great bass players. Her sinewy, biting low-register lines brought an unexpected elegant and grace to Michael Gira’s Angels of Light. After that, she led the hauntingly cinematic Bee & Flower. Her latest project, the richly atmospheric art-rock instrumental band Insect Ark with Taurus drummer Ashley Spungin, might well be her darkest yet. They’re headlining at St. Vitus on July 2 at 11 PM; cover is $10. Dead Kennedys-influenced Pennnslvania hardcore/punk band the Abandos open the night at 8 followed by Pawns – good luck finding them on the web – and then keyboardist Shari Vari’s 80s-tinged darkwave pop project Void Vision.
It’s amazing how much density, and mighty majesty, and how many cumulo-nimbus textures Schechter gets out of just lapsteel, keys, bass and drums on the new album, Portal/Well. What’s most impressive is that Schechter plays all of the instruments herself. The title track sets the tone, a steady, ominously atmospheric dirge, dark washes of lapsteel and keys shifting through the picture, distorted chords lingering and then rising in a dense, grey mist, aching to break free.
The Collector builds from a creepy tritone synth loop with a minimalist bassline that brings to mind early Wire, picking up steam as it bends and sways, and ends up back where it started. Lowlands is a miniature, awash in sustain from slow-burning lapsteel. The album’s most epic track, Octavia, opens as an opaque, Richard Wright-like minimalist-yet-maximalist mood piece and takes on a deep-space grandeur as layers and layers of lapsteel cut through the mist, then create their own. The miniature that follows, Crater Lake, is the most straight-up Eno-esque atmospheric piece here.
Taalith – a reference to an eerily portentous Isabelle Eberbardt short story about a drowning – could be described as slowcore spacerock, anchored on the low end by growling bass and at the top by drifting sheets from the lapsteel: the Friends of Dean Martinez taking a slow, syncopated stroll on Pluto. Parallel Twin, with its doppler effects and unexpected drum accents, is the most cinematic and suspenseful, picking up with some tasty, chromatic bass chords: it’s the closest thing to Bee & Flower here. The final cut, Low Moon is the droniest and most surreal, its stygian waves contrasting with almost droll, lo-fi synth oscilations. Only one of the tracks – The Collector – is up at Insect Ark’s Bandcamp page, but there are a handful of similarly brooding, intense singles there, and more stuff at Soundcloud as well. And it almost goes without saying that Schechter is the rare artist whose work is always worth owning. If you want more info on this, one of the few reliably good music blogs, The Obelisk did a good piece on the band.