Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
Three of the available publicity "photos" of DM Stith, available to A&E newspaper and magazine editors on the Asthmatic Kitty Records website are illustrations. One features the Indianapolis resident as an oil or tempra painting. Another shows the scrawny and skimpy young man who knows what a Buffalo winter feels like - ghosts and bare bones and Rock Island and blue lights - as a watercolored painting of wiry penciled sketchings and detail. The last portrait is a profile done all in lead pencil. It shows Stith from the top jawbone up to his hair, and a little bit over, but the rest of his face is almost completely unblemished, like empty space, other than what exists for a mouth, a cockeyed mouth. In that place, to the side of the cheek is an ear, a disproportionate ear and one that wasn't cropped appropriately, so that there's still a little hair at the top of it. Though it's likely just supposed to be a broken image, shifted out of place for the sake of a skewed perspective, it's a provocative move to give the thoughtful and bookish Stith an ear for a mouth, for no other reason than the thought that his music is an obvious example of a person who spends a far greater majority of his time collecting than he does dispensing. It's an accidental nod to a sophisticated witness, a guy who knows himself startlingly well and who is comfortable discreetly burning holes into others with his hungry eyes. It seems as if a photographic mind is whirring behind those eyes, taking in and then heading to the dark room at the base of the skull and working with the chemicals to show off the print in the dark glow of a blood red light. These prints stay back there in the files for future use, for the time when the toothless old man in a wheelchair, with giant legs is needed back for some reason, when the homemade doughnuts at an Iowa casino might make more sense or add some lyrical spritzer to his hauntingly pretty ballads that are more like brawls with a pacifist who's only going to win with worded daggers and body shots to the knotted muscles upstairs. Stith is a man who would back quickly away from a potential altercation, preferring to have nothing in life ever get that dicey, that skittish. He insists that he tastes iceberg lettuce and cigarette smoke in his pity dance and that may be a suitable positioning for the sum of his musical ideas - somewhere between the rebellious devices known and proven to kill you and a type of common and relatable food, involved with almost every meal, believed to be a good and safe move. He serves his thoughts of reasonable pessimism and fear - all spun into beauty marks and heavenly dollops - with that spoonful not of sugar, but of relaxing, massage parlor stimulation and acupuncture jabs. They make you involuntarily bring down the curtains of your eyes and you gain a heightened sense of awareness, where Stith's voice is louder and clearer and is a pantomime of some of our own thoughts, the complex ones that we always wish would replace the pixilated ones that we've grown so accustomed to. He sings, "The body waits for obliteration," and yet there's nothing about his songs and the way he sings them that would lead to any assumption that he's thinking severely dark thoughts, just the naturally dark thoughts of our waiting rooms and idle minds, when things get carried away as if by a runaway trade wind. There is all of that gray, snow-covered philosophy floating through his words and then there's the belief that he has a lot in common with that YouTube star, Christian the Lion, who against whatever ingrained natural instincts would still leap into an old friend's arms, having not seen them for years and years, putting aside any harbored uncertainly or unease. It would be two friends together again, though one can still feel as if he's seen things and this time is not the same.
DM Stith Official Site
Asthmatic Kitty Records