Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
A conversation overheard at the bookstore, from earlier this week, comes back to the fore not too long after sitting down with this Pillars and Tongues session. It was just after the work day had ended for most and a group of two middle-aged men and two scrawny and geeky teens (fundamentally sci-fi fan boys) were seated near the sugar and half-and-half counter in front of two board games - something mixing chess, checkers and backgammon. One of the sci-fi kids, in a nasally voice comments, "I invented the universe 11 seconds ago. Prove me wrong. Think about it for a second. You can't do it. You can't prove me wrong." There's not a whole lot that you can say when someone makes that statement other than, "…okay…" It's that invention of the universe that is applicable here in thinking about the Chicago band Pillars & Tongues - aficionados of the tempestuous and sprawling, stretching and groaning sounds and time-lapses of introspection. In their sometimes long and always fascinating epic songs, Mark Trecka, Elizabeth Remis and Evan Hydzik make a landscape that's being defined moment to moment, with visibility at or near absolute zero. You cannot see or hear your hand if you were to wave it directly in front of your face in these imagined lands, clearing out and opening up as they are in a splendorous display of spooky discretion. The band does not deliver upon any promise of realism other than a secret one that it must keep to itself, laying out these songs as if they were the very exploration of places and spaces never before seen and all of it makes for a combination of excitement and trepidation as the rules have long ago flown out the windows and been trampled by trucks. There are no rules or itineraries followed by Pillars & Tongues, just an assorted collection of tattered and upside-down maps and scraps of paper without a legend or arrows for guidance. It's of pioneering bewilderment that Trecka's voice sings overtop an ambling and persistent passage of smoke. It creates a hot feeling of hot earth and instability that gives the ground and all living out of it clearance for upheaval and for renovation whenever it would like. The ongoing frequencies and the hypnotic rails of violin in "Made Sheen" slink into your ears like the tails of wild deer and keep you entranced until THEY decide you're free to let down, to break and get a drink of water. The music is all invention as it goes, never giving off a hint that there is a destination in mind. It's streaked with ominous tones of fermentation and spiked booze, of new species of life poking through the ground clearing and reacting to the sun for the first time. This seems to bring odd musical phrasings and pleasant surprises as Trecka uses his voice almost as a narrator depicting the setting and what's unforeseen. That would be all of it and the music wraps around us like a feathered boa and we're taken into the trees willingly, where there are creatures staring and humming the same song out of sun-dressed beaks and gothic lips.