Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley
What would be such a pleasure to do right in front of Caleb Engstrom is to take two dozen mirrors and windows, disco balls, crystal vases or ornaments and just smash them to smithereens on the hard ground, just letting the jagged, glittering parts of formerly whole pieces of porcelain and glass scatter like scared crickets - finally pausing to a stop as if they were waiting to detect any danger. Our ears would ring for a second as the chattering glass cubes and fragments, bits of bits of bits would be loud and somewhat joyous. Engstrom's eyes would grow as big as those ruined disco balls used to be and they'd shine like brights.
They would skirt all over the place, trying to get a grip of all that he was witnessing before them, checking out the newness of all the refractions and reflections, playing with the natural light, all of the existing shades and colors, taking some of it here and altering all of it into new colors and shadows. The broken pieces of light would just be lying there, on their backs, playing dead and awaiting a dustbin to be swept into. The Iowa City songwriter - who hails from nearby Maquoketa, Iowa, a sleepy town as almost all of the locales in Iowa are - would likely fight the man or woman trying to clean up the "mess." He wouldn't see It that way at all. He'd probably see it as a masterpiece. He'd think to himself, "Damn, why didn't I think of that?" And the statement wouldn't mean anything really, it would just be an unlucky feeling sitting in the pit of his stomach, hoping to have been ingenious enough to have broken all of that glass himself and to have let whatever it was that was going to happen, do so at his own hand. He'd find twice as much beauty in that as he would otherwise.
You see, Engstrom has an appreciative eye for the finer, more miniscule points of light that are out there fraternizing with all of those broader points of light, the ones that hit everyone, equally like a ton of bricks. What do you mean you didn't see that? - is how the refrain goes for those absent-minded patrons of the world around them. Engstrom picks up on the shapes and the curvatures of whimpering flames atop candlewicks, making faces at the humongous and open sky. He gets tenderized by the abstract thought that that same flame of note might be looking back at him and thinking, without any reason to, that there was a guy who could appreciate its full potential. He could see beyond just the hot and the light, but into the origins of the fire, where it first came from, and then a rushing draft of what that fire would accomplish in its short lifespan, even if his eyes weren't there to see all of it.
He's calm and he's clear as a person, just as his gorgeous folk songs are upon their wings and airs. He deconstructs light and then weaves it into the words that he forms around the simple, but meaningful chords that are made for nights where believing in the impossible is all you want to do. He writes songs that should make it onto every mixtape that gets passed from a shy boy - who reads Shakespeare and Walt Whitman and sometimes can't help himself but want to go outside during a charging summer thunderstorm and just romp around in the puddles that get as white as eggs every time the sky throws a tantrum and shakes out some blue-ish purple lightning - to a shy girl with eyes to get lost in for eternity. He writes songs that couldn't have come from any one who wouldn't stand slack-jawed before a floor filled with the tiny little specks of light bouncing off shattered glass. It wouldn't make any sense.