REVIEW: Dathon & Lie Low – “Cities in Blight”

Dathon & Lie Low
Cities in Blight

Even a cursory dig into this information will reveal that neither of the performers incumbent for this recording are current Louisville natives. An astute eye though, especially if well-read here at Never Nervous, will notice that each player involved is a Louisville expatriate, with Eric Stuart performing here under the name Lie Low, and Corey Lyons again performing as Dathon. Full disclosure: I’ve had close relationships with both over the years. Eric and I met in high school, and he went on to play in both The Seaside Panel and City of Ghosts with me. While Corey and I never played together until very recently (we played an improv show in April under the name Monon), I did watch him evolve as a musician from his earliest days with Sister Helen Prejudice, through the multiple iterations of Bodyhammer, up to his work with the bands he played with in Chicago like Millions and La Forge. In both cases, I’ve seen how either have changed over the years, and how that change is currently reflected here with Cities in Blight, their first and hopefully not last collaborative effort.

Am I qualified to write this? It’s hard to judge my objectivity here. I’m close to the material at hand, if not privileged to the background of the music, then especially intimate with all of the work that lead up to this. But I’m as in the dark on this stuff as you, and when you consider the nature of improv, how can you make any sort of judgment call that involves pretense? I’m left with the awkward predicament that whatever I write will seem relative to my experience, and not evaluated by the text alone in my sort of dirty-blogger by way of Harold Bloom kind of way of writing here usually goes. It’s up to you to decide if I’m fair or accurate.

There is a visceral, kind of gristly bit that opens the album, a high pitched and kind of bitter note that recurs throughout. It’s hard to say if that’s an intentional motif, that rigid feedback squalor so indebted to mid-80’s industrial, but it does serve as an excellent counter balance to the otherwise serene drone that carries the meat of the recording. The juxtaposition of the two makes for a nice aural narrative, what you might expect from a city in blight, especially if you’ve ever visited a place like Detroit, which is equal parts faded regal glory and urban decay, spread out in haphazard display.

That isn’t to say that taken as a whole that the music seems discordant in it’s architecture, or that any note is out of place. There is a quiet calm that more than once borders on seething, the sort of thing best left to those moods where you sit in your car alone, the windows rolled up in the blazing summer heat, teeth gritted with anger over your indignation just waiting to unleash. There is something almost coiled about the music here, like it’s waiting to strike, or as if this is the calm before the storm. Maybe, given the subject matter here, the music is less about some impending action, and more a reaction to what has. This stands to logic when you place this into the improv context wherein each musician plays off of one another.

This is literally a tale of two cities, three if you count the common location on the ven diagram between both musicians, but it never plays out as such. Recorded in two very different geographical locations, the two mesh seamlessly at times, to the extent that one presence gets lost in the other. The end result is often transcendent, a meditative experience best reserved for some time you can get lost in thought. Cities in Blight is cinematic in scope, but somehow still maintains an implicit intimacy, the perfect score for a film both dark and noir-ish or a welcome companion for reading or thought.

You can listen for yourself here: