Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley
The ways that I've only heard of Casey Dienel acting are more numerous and full of triple the dimensions in relationship to the ones that I've seen with my own eyes. It's probably exactly that way with every single person that any of us have ever come into contact with throughout our many days - you, me, all others and the dead. They are mere tips of monstrous icebergs that those around us allow glimpses of - the original paper doll before the connected family is unfolded like a triple-gate letter, shocking us with numbers, a magnitude of aspects, of a billion blinks, a million fingernails and platforms and thousands of gestures and angles.
Most of the things she does have nothing to do with music. She just makes them into music, though we'd never think it so simply. Right now, as the red and orange leaves are slipping from their grips and tumbling from their barren rooftop dwellings, Dienel is in the middle of canning season, taking ripened fruits and vegetables and processing them just so in order for them to keep over the winter, in the see-through Mason jars, in storm cellars and dank basements. These are scenes that most wouldn't remember ever having seen before - rows and rows of canned pears and stewed tomatoes - for the stores are all so close now and they always will be forever more. Those that my grandmother kept in her small basement in the city were surrounded by bookshelves full of recipe clippings and a deep freezer that all of the grandchildren knew contained the gallon of Neapolitan ice cream that we wanted to cover in hot fudge from a can, exposed to the air with a can opener - the same way we jacked our Hawaiian Punch, with the triangled holes on both sides, one for the air and one for the juice to flow. Who knows what happened to that freezer full of ice cream and those shelves of recipes and fermented grapes in cans when she passed away.
A basement just like that - full of silent stories and oddly scary jar after jar of canned fruit - could be something that Dienel channeled on her latest full-length, Phylactery Factory, relating to the dungeon fare and the labor-intensive and mundane procedure that trapped all of those food stuffs, as brains and organs are preserved. How they were taken out of their natural element and forced to remain young and edible through air-locked ingenuity and help prisoner in a dark place is the heart of the idea. The new Portland resident - after a debut record that was more whimsical and playfully cute - slid her slippers off and plunged head-long into the remote reaches of a forested imagination and let all of the murky waters that she never knew she had play, making for herself music that has a spookiness that not you nor anyone you know could put a finger on. There are invisible cobwebs hanging down from its corners and those sticky webs hit you without warning. You wipe them away from your eyebrows, like no harm's been done, but there's a lingering thought about the invisible places you're walking toward next, and whether or not there are going to be any more surprises.
This record is a new kind of chronicle of hard to define folklore that is a blend of Dienel's childhood and the scenes that seem to be from a David Sedaris upbringing or Revolutionary Road, where the unease and the delightful awkwardness is palpable and rings as truthfully as anything. She's taken some of the various moments that she's witnessed, filled them with poetic license and then coated them in a creepy, jazz smoking jacket that goes well with everything. These songs carry the same kinds of perpendicular meanings whether or not they start from a haze or from a crisp and clean morning, waking up at a house along the cape. They involve bicycles being thrown out of windows. They involve the painful and sketchy things that cameras are never thought of to capture. They involve the kinds of inherent sounds that saws and theremins make when they're drifting off to slumberland. They involve the stories from cellars and basements. It is a trail of smoke plumes that we follow into these songs, going through them like a maze, feeling our ways out, if we do at all.