Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
Just the other day, a man who does this for a living inspected a home we were interested in living in, perhaps for the better part of our lives. He walked around all of the contours of the home, inside and out, inspecting its state of disrepair and upkeep. His task was to determine if the home was sound or if there were some questionable aspects that should be considered weaknesses and reasons to get out while the getting was good. The basement got a one-over, the roof was given the ol' inspector stink eye, surveyed and then commented upon with a stylus and a space-age notebook that made robotic giggly noises every time a new room was completed. The basement in this house isn't as creepy as some are so that wasn't all bad.
This house though, unlike the one that I grew up in has an attic that can be reached through a rectangular door in the ceiling of the top floor. These spaces always seem so off-limits and secretive, as if they may hold prisoner things that don't need to be let loose. Though the doors are not fortified or locked and there's typically a retractable staircase readily available, nothing usually goes in and nothing usually comes out - just an aura remains around the sealed up space between the dwellers and the steeple of the roof. There are always suspicions about what could have happened up there and to whom.
Our inspector needed to be up there. As it was said before, this was his job. He said he found a dead mouse. I'm guessing it looked old and probably carried the markings of mice before there were color television sets. He asked if we needed a mattress and we wondered who could have possibly slept on that thing - soiled with age - and why they hated it so much that it was banished to the attic. There were three dusty, dusty boxes of old books and a creepy ceramic doll that was also so unloved that it was left behind with the books.
North Carolina band The Physics of Meaning is led by Daniel Hart, who brings the attic feeling into his virtuous songs of inescapable pain and dramatic texture. They recall bygone times and the way that people looked from far away in memories, with a shine and a more porcelain gloss. The stories are high with tension and threaded together with a passionate discourse of unbridled steam and storm. You see it setting up at the edge of town, tumbling in from the west, turning on all of the street lamps as it methodically makes a night out of a day, delivering a reminder that there's more to this living thing than we could ever control.
Hart and his violin are one and the same apparatus, working in unison to bend the frames of typical pop, into pieces that open up old souls from the grounds. They make for contemporary hauntings - recalling those tiny nettlesome skeletons in the closet or attic, slumped into a hot or frigid crawlspace, where just two triangular windows on the ends of the structure provide looking space - a connection to the outside. He and his revolving band of players - depending on availability and the time of year - create so much urgency in these songs that are more graphic folktales of a new kind, ones that befriend the line of thinking that Colin Meloy, Zach Condon and Hart's frequent boss John Vanderslice take when writing.
They are stories about hardships and discomforts, realizations of just how everything fits together in its jarring and contradictory way sometimes. The muffled groans that are coming from the top of the stairs that you hear - the hollow bangs of the floorboards above the head - is the band channeling these ghosts, locked in their periods and steps, that reach out to them for their vocalness.
*Essay originally published June, 2008