Jon Koschkoreck, aka Eli August, is amassing a sizeable collection of recorded material; three CDs with his now-defunct band Fermata and his two releases as Eli August. This new one is hefty, with eighteen tracks clocking in at just over fifty minutes.
There is nothing exceptional about Koschkoreck on the surface; the songs are simple in structure, similar in nature and his less-than-pitch-perfect vocals are confined to a narrow range – the melodies linear and the delivery a bit stiff. He also likes to re-work themes and compositions appearing on previous recordings. But there is something about his goth-poetic style and the sincerity of his performances that make his music engaging. The annals of popular music are littered with artists whose compositional and communicative skills outweigh their musical and vocal shortcomings and Koschkoreck is one of those. There are noticeable edits, background hiss and some saturation, but you almost expect these types of blemishes on a confessional project of this sort. In fact, they become not blemishes at all but accentuations of a style that reflects a solitary existence. Furthermore, it was recorded precisely to achieve this effect in engineer Jake Johnson’s living room and at the Gates of Heaven on Gorham Street. Even those tracks recorded at Johnson’s Paradyme Productions studio were, in some cases, miked experimentally to help achieve this unpolished effect. Not only is the desired outcome achieved, the recording succeeds in creating a mood by virtue of the way it sounds as much as the sound of the instruments themselves.
Let This House Burn Slowly follows along the same lines as Fermata’s excellent Only Ghost Remain from 2008 (see our review here) and the first Eli August EP, I Was Already Too Late, from 2009. The songs are forlorn, delicately adorned with strings, ukulele and, primarily, acoustic guitar. There is regret, remorse, longing and more than a hint of despair. Eli August is serious, minor-key listening then, the polar opposite of pop music. It won’t make you dance but it will make you feel.
The album opens with a violin solo from Chris Wagoner, then shifts into an a capella choral arrangement recorded at Gates of Heaven. The recording techniques come into play on the third track, “Abandoned House” with Kocshkoreck performing on a melodeon, a civil war-era pump organ. The floorboards creak and the pedal squeaks as Koschkoreck sings “The floorboards warped / The roof caved in / The paint is peeling off the walls / And cobwebs clutter up the halls;” A near-perfect blend of mood, sound and connotation. The melodeon returns on the instrumental piece, “Moments Go Unnoticed,” in a duet with glockenspiel.
Standout tracks include “Second Story,” which is augmented nicely by Mike Darnell’s upright bass and concertina solo. “Hidden Eden” employs some very creative drum miking and mixing techniques. Here Koschkoreck adds some delicately played ukulele. “Crawling Again” and “Only Ghosts Remain” play as a pair. Wagoner adds some spacey, echo-laden violin while Mary Gaines’s cello joins with Darnell’s bass to create a heavy, dense undergrowth while Nicky Sund’s drums highlight the song’s syncopations in the coda.
The finest tracks are saved for a song sequence that takes up the last third of the album. Koschkoreck introduces piano for the first time on “Early Grave.” Sonically, the track is very interesting, one of Jake Johnson’s finest productions. The ukelele is crystal clear and Darnell’s bass is so menacing it gives you creeps. The song appears to be over but a jolting piano string strum, drenched in reverb leads to a delicate piano figure that leads the song out. Brilliant. “I Sang to You in the Darkness of Our Room, But I Was Already Too Late” features a beautiful string section. Suddenly, Koschkoreck goes major-key with an acoustic guitar and vocal passage that is mirrored in the lyrics: “I want to change / I know I must.” This leads into the pastoral “The Dead End Road of Last October” where Koschkoreck finally lets his voice relax a bit.
The whole album plays as a continuous narrative and the creative effort that went into it is impressive. What’s truly shameful is that Koschkoreck is another promising artist that Madison has successfully ignored rather than embraced and encouraged. He’ll be leaving for Baltimore as this album is released; another example of an artist who just can’t get any traction in a city that constantly struggles to create a scene while simultaneously rejecting it.