a robin sings at night – brood parasite & murmuration
5.2.23 by Zach Mitchell
21st century connections are crazy. I recently posted on Facebook (a website I try to avoid outside of seeing what the 30 year old ex-goths in my life are complaining about these days) finally advertising my Tabs Out pieces and asked my 200 something strong friends list for a heads up on any tapes they might be releasing. The girl who headed up the photography department of my high school’s newspaper (where I was the award winning editor-in-chief) responded and linked me up with Ian Craig, who she met on a dating app. Both parties are happily married to other people now but still sorta kinda keep in touch through the magic of social media.
Craig was nice enough to mail me a literal handful of tapes, a true treat in the blogging world. Amidst the stack of lofi singer songwriter and campy horror themed garage rock (we love a diverse label!) one release stood out – a clear plastic case housing two tapes with the label “two guitars, semi-improvised” fixed to the back. Turns out that this is a reissue of the first two tapes from Craig’s project a robin sings at night and it’s just what it says on the tin – two tapes, brood parasite and murmuration, full of homespun, singularly voiced guitar duets.
What sets a robin sings at night apart is its approach to form over function. Both tapes feel like a punk rock take on American primitivism, featuring over 40 (by my estimation) short bursts of contemplative sketches. brood parasite is a sequel to murmuration but they were both created the same way: Craig would take one hour to create the initial tracks in the left channel and then give himself a half hour to come up with a response in the right. Craig varies his guitar playing through both tapes, taking on traditional finger picking, furious strumming, and what I imagine is the sound of him karate chopping his guitar. The conversational nature of the music, combined with the brevity, almost makes it feel like a madcap, instrumental reading of a diary. Every song captures a discrete emotion and an immediate reaction to it, warts and all. It’s hard not to feel charmed by this approach, even with its rapidly oscillating nature.
The range of ideas on these two albums is impressive for the creative parameters. Every nook and cranny of the concept is explored. Beautiful melodies are interrupted by noisy bursts. Lilting calls are met with joyous responses. As an artistic exercise, it’s impressive. As a listening experience, it’s invigorating. Craig’s guitar playing is easy to get lost in and the albums’ structure (including the lack of tracklist on the set itself) makes it hard to pick out any one moment as a standout, but that’s honestly to the set’s benefit. As long as you keep an open mind and are willing to let the 30 minutes of lightly improvised music wash over you, you’ll find something to love.