One can find fleeting truth between open fifths. Micah Blue Smaldone, Mainer equally versed in punk and folk tropes, traces his tether amongst the even strums and close harmonies of “Heavy Bottle,” the idyllic single for his record The Ring of the Rise (Immune Records). How far can one venture out and still have the language to speak to the tribe? “Heavy Bottle” is an exercise in immediate wisdom, immediately lost.
Simmered in a steel string stew of open-road continuance and strained tenor vibrato, the song is structured with equal speech and equal violin-sawed breaths. Smaldone immediately isolates the issue of time, not only in his narrative but in his chosen presentation: “Seeing is so easy to ignore / the weight of what’s before you / the time you never could avoid / until it passed behind you.” It seems here that time is not tangible until it slips away, whether this be one’s ever-confusing, unexpected present, or the manner in which that present is presented to oneself. What’s interesting here is that, with these lines, Smaldone is aware of the trappings of folk rehash, yet he can escape nostalgia by matching time with style: one can only understand the present in its continual passing, so to reach back is to hammer in a direct, conversational authority, swelling in all its minor/major third, open-plains heaving. Huzzah, folkies, revel in your validation – with your close application of the past to the present, you’re “On the eve of nevermore.”
This is to say there’s a direct correlation between stylistic markers of time and the listener’s relationship to personal history. Like the best modern folk music, Smaldone’s speaker recognizes that a reinsertion of a recognizably past musical language (compounded in the reference to 70s referencing) can translate to an informed commentary on the present. Yet, the wonderful tragedy is that, as with the style he references, within a few minutes Smaldone realizes, “Soon I’m going with the rest / to wear the road’s arrival.” Here’s the brilliance of his surface narrative: he’s applying the past to the present with the metaphor of drinking to forget. What a fucking beautiful fate of any folk song.