I Hear A Darkness
Sweden's Jasper TX inks his own twilight netherworld
The self-released Pilgrims--one of several recordings Swedish multi-instrumentalist Dag Rosenqvist issued under the Jasper TX banner in 2007--concludes with a dirge named "A Quiet Gloom." Faded brass and organ drones emerge, dripping, from turgid, raspy static. The volume knob is given an ever-so-gentle twist, deeper into the red. Then--just when your ears have become accustomed to the midnight traffic of tonal hulks passing like drugged whales in the night--Rosenqvist knocks them from the frame, hurling sequenced bolts of gray noise that close the album.
Such is the sound world Rosenqvist has expanded upon since inaugurating Jasper TX with 2005's I'll Be Gone Long Before My Light Reaches You (Lampse): quietly gloomy indeed, eerily compelling, gorgeously sinister, deep purple shot through with specks of starlight. Songs often commence and conclude at near-inaudible levels; it's a tempting triangulation of postrock's exacting chops, minimalist ambient, and the bedroom doom-metal aesthetic of artists like Xasthur.
The tone Jasper TX often strikes--the not-quite-reassuring sound of velveteen darkness--feels slightly at odds with the grisly tragedy from which he draws his namesake. In 1998 in the town of Jasper, Tex., three white men chained an African-American man to a pick-up truck and dragged him to death--an act of inhumanity that, halfway around the globe, moved Rosenqvist deeply.
"Naming my project Jasper TX was my way of saying that we should never, ever forget what we human beings are capable of," he explains in a late-June e-mail interview from the road, where he's touring in support of new album Singing Stones (Fang Bomb). "The incident in Jasper became a symbol of both despair and hatred, but also of hope as the world condemned the actions of the three men who murdered James Byrd Jr. This incident, as well as my music and life in general, contains both light and darkness. The one cannot exist without the other."
Rosenqvist's early musical exposure was wide-ranging--his mother's record collection revolved around rock standards such as the Rolling Stones and Janis Joplin, while his father's favorites include jazz greats such as Charles Mingus, Max Roach, and Eric Dolphy--and he began taking double-bass lessons at the age of nine. "Awful" formative compositions that "sounded like shit" would morph into what today is Jasper TX: "I actually have some of those early recordings left, but they will never leave the safety of my bedroom drawer," he writes.
Once Rosenqvist got rolling as a recording artist, there was no stopping him. From the schizophrenic smorgasbord of 2007's A Darkness (Lidar)--splashy crackling hiss resolving into ghostly gorgeous piano ambles, samples blown and broken in storm gusts, avant-garde piano recital beauty--to the more sinister flavors of 2008's Closet Ghosts (Fenetre) to The Bending of Light (SMTG Limited), this year's more subdued, synth-heavy collaboration with Anduin, he's hewed to a dreamy, oceanic modus operandi that waxes and wanes without ever taking huge artistic leaps. In some ways, Jasper TX songs seem less like crowd-pleasing compositions and more like a Rosenqvist hobby that's developed into a career.
"I'm pretty much never short on energy or ideas," he writes. "The thing is there's just so much music to be made, so many interesting projects to be a part of. When I had all of my recording equipment at home, I used to be really manic about recording stuff. I could sit for twelve hours straight without eating or sleeping or even knowing that the world existed around me. Now, I have a recording space a good twenty minutes from home, and I'm trying to work as focused and efficiently as possible when I'm there."
While especially and epically quiet in spots, Singing Stones mostly hoists the standard Jasper TX banner: hypnotic, gently layered washes that hover just at the edge of perception before catching the listener unaware. Lullaby "They've Flown Away and Left Us" opens with the subdermal pitter-patter of processed-tape hiss, feeling like shades of Jason Crumer's "Perfect Comfort," before introducing drowsy, drawled guitar figures, soft xylophone pings, and distant organ drones; all the while, that tape hiss never quite subsides, sometimes jumping to the forefront of the mix or laying back in the cut. Discordant piano chords introduce "A Box of Wood in the Storm"; before long, though, a pregnant silence reigns supreme--only to give way to static soaked rumbles that slowly explode into a searing, polyphonic drone that's orchestrally awesome. "Last Boat In," meanwhile, floods a swarm of soft-focus xylophone peals, which sound a bit like wind chimes, with samples of wind blowing through trees. Stones may be his most emotionally involving recording today.
"For Singing Stones, I tried to create a story where all the tracks were different scenes in a loose narrative--and to tell the story properly I needed all those sounds and all of the silent parts to be on the record," Rosenqvist writes. "It is fully realized in the sense that there's nothing on it that doesn't need to be there. Every sound has a place and a purpose."
Perhaps the most surprising fact about Rosenqvist, given how committed and prolific he's been musically--Jasper TX has released upward of 10 albums, mini-albums, EPs, and collaborative efforts since 2005--is that the project isn't his sole career: he's presently studying to become a project manager.
"The older I get, the more focus, structure, and control I need, it seems," he writes, jokingly adding: "I'll probably end up turning into a psychotic bureaucrat making minimal harsh noise."
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