Laughing Eye Weeping Eye, ‘Beway’

Posted by on November 6, 2013


Hairy Spider Legs, 6/11/2013

Chicago duo Laughing Eye Weeping Eye play with repetition and hymn, as antidotes to authority and institutions in their strange medieval, transcendental journey. Patrick Holbrook and Rebecca Schoenecker released their LP, Beway, on their own imprint, Hairy Spider Legs, and their work personifies the label’s aesthetic of folk experimentation and diverse vocal explorations.

Read as a journey, Beway delivers specific characters, settings, and conflict, ultimately facing off blood and redemption. Experienced as a series of drones, waltzes, and hymns, the duo exhibit little regard for genre or timbre constraints, and bask in acoustic and synthetic sketches. Their album can be long and complete, or short and disjointed, and after several listens, the listener’s grasp on the narrative might be more obscured than when they first began.

Passages of surprising instrumental violence are placed against lyrics of more tenuous origin, and workers’ chants trudge alongside divine ruminations. After a series of festive dance and male/female vocal trade-offs on closing drones for the first side, a wicked, saturated electric guitar pierces “Angel” and “Village” to open the second. Acoustic and electric elements are not always opposed, as synthesizer tones often  match the robust, airy harmonium tones used throughout the album. Percussion is happenstance, frequently delivered through the vocals as much as “things from the kitchen” (as the credits put it). This series of surprises follows the entire journey, as delightfully “homemade” stretches match exquisite compositions.

The two sides seem to explore feelings of determination and resignation, a sense of adventure that leads to an eventual endpoint. Swelling, oscillating synths and operatic vocals on the first side oppose chanting, labor, and dissonance on the second. Whereas the first side’s journey feels continuous, even harmonious, in terms of music, the second side’s continuity is in narrative, rather than musical terms. The identity of that narrative is disjointed and difficult to discern on the second side, as high-end, ethereal entities like “Angel” or “High Court” feel more like jesters, feudal workers, or nomads. Laughing Eye Weeping Eye effectively produce tension and suspense with these unpredictable, opposed elements.

Rebecca Schoenecker’s voice serves as a unifying theme throughout this tension. She plays with timbre, phrasing, and melody to produce vocal lines that carry the narrative. Frequently, choral arrangements emerge to produce patterned, slowly building movements, while Schoenecker’s solo voice is often whimsical and without conventional constraint. She delivers her vocals at extremely high pitches, and uses textures and rhythms that enhance a shrieking, joyful attitude. As the lyrical content opposes the musical developments at certain points, so too does Schoenecker’s performance add another dimension to the narrative progression of the album. Often, the sense of rhythm in the songs is carried or enhanced by her performance.

One of the strongest displays of melody appears between “Angel,” “Village,” and “High Court” on the second side. After the only extremely distorted, wild electric guitar tone on the album appears in phases, a set of matched, acoustic arpeggios return the narrative to its foundation. Bowed, waltzing strings engage these arpeggios, as new sets of lyrics and plot unfold. A dissonant solo on an acoustic instrument enters, another transition descends, this time into the droning delivery of “High Court.”

It is unclear who wins at the conclusion of the narrative. On “The Lamb,” our narrator notes, “don’t despair / When you face the / wrath Tho the blood / it falls / On the damned.” This mimics the imagery on the first side closing on “Knight:” “worry not though / blood shall soak / the fields.” Yet, it is not clear that the authority of King, Knight, Angel, High Court are the beneficiaries of the lesson. The closest hint is that our narrator is an angel, but the vocal deliveries, transitions, and experimentation suggest that the characters might not be what they seem. Either way, narrative unity need not be the lesson from Laughing Eye Weeping Eye. The lessons are more effectively taken from joyous folk experimentation that fluctuates between waltzes, hymns, and drones as readily as the stages change in the story.