By Nathan Pavolko
Cross Record is an electro-rock band from the outskirts of Austin, Texas. The band is comprised of Emily Cross and her husband Dan Duszynski, who recorded the band’s sophomore album Wabi-Sabi at their quaint, secluded Moon Phase Ranch home. The large 18-acre ranch is surrounded by thick forest, complete with a chicken coop and bird sanctuary, plenty of space for the two to get lost in their own world.
Cross went to college for visual arts, yet eventually gravitated toward music after being motivated by her friends. Since Duszynski is a wildly creative studio engineer, together they have this unique balance of visionary songwriting and inventive recording styles. Cross sees songwriting as a completely free form experience, approaching a song as if it were a canvas. In contrast, Duszynski carries a more technical side, harnessing his wife’s vision into a reality. The two teach each other new ways of approaching their art forms in one project, as well as building a wonderful relationship in the process.
With a scratching and a hiss like a dusty record needle Wabi-Sabi starts, guitars tumbling into form, as the lyrics “Slow moving” are said in a lingering howl in the opening track “The Curtains Part". Much like their dreamy ranch home, Wabi-Sabi has its own atmosphere, capturing the most surreal and foreboding elements of their surroundings into a mixture that is both beautiful and haunting. The music has a dark brooding energy that’s slow-moving; it stirs and festers until the whip crack of the drums come thundering in, then it drifts off into the distance. There is a strong emphasis on minimalism with guitars playing simple finger-plucking melodies or distorted riffs as the hum of a keyboard adds ambiance. In “Steady Waves”, the elegant voice of Cross roams free in the open space left by the instruments. Her soft whispers are as chilling as they are comforting.
However airy the songs might be, each of them carries the emotional weight of an anvil. In “Something Unseen Touches A Flower To My Forehead,” a quick-twisting finger-plucked melody is laid out on the guitar as Cross’ voice calmly soars over like a bird in the sky. Then, an electric guitar plays a deep low-end distorted riff building the tension as her voice drops to match the tone change; a pounding bass drum kicks in. It’s a fierce song full of heart and underlying pain that shows how deceptive her voice can be. The most eerie track of the album and last single before its release, “Basket”, got a startling music video. The video depicts an ancient and mystical woman trapped in a dark twisted world, encountering wild and terrifying monsters that don’t seem to be life-threatening, but rather just living. It’s a perfect match to the song’s disorienting nature, with its sharp ringing synthesizers and creeping guitar as choir voices fade in and fade out. I think of Cross’ voice in this song in particular as a beautiful wandering ghost, alluring and fragile calling out “I wanted to make something to hold you in”.
Wabi-Sabi is a dark and mysterious album with a large amount of depth for how simple it is. Its looming presence contrasted with Cross’ soft angelic voice make for a shockingly beautiful performance. There is such a confidence in this record, boldly embracing its artistic experiments and succeeding to surprise around every turn. This is easily one of my favorite records of 2016 thus far. If you’re a fan of Cat Power, Sonic Youth, or any strong woman fronted band with an extremely original artistic view, do yourself a favor and pick this one up.