Local Artist Spotlight: Tiny Vipers

Local Artist Spotlight, Local Music, Album Reviews
03/23/2018
Martin Douglas

Leading up to Upstream Music Fest + Summit, the regionally focused festival happening in Pioneer Square June 1-3 with over 200 acts, KEXP will highlight a series of local artists every week with a short feature on the artist and a few tracks to start with if you're unfamiliar with their work. Today's post features Seattle-based musician Tiny Vipers.


The music of Tiny Vipers has always relied on texture, even during a period where the only available tools were acoustic guitar, voice, and silence. On her two full-length albums with Sub Pop (debut Hands Across the Void and its follow-up Life on Earth), Jesy Fortino used the latter as a musical instrument like few musicians before her, utilizing the concept of a room’s empty space to the height of its capabilities.

Laughter relies on a different sort of texture. Compared to the hyper-minimalist folk music of her most popular full-lengths, the album is teeming with sound. But where there is precedent (2007’s Empire Prism, 2015’s Ambience 3, 2012’s dazzling collaboration with Liz Harris as Mirroring, Foreign Body), there is unfinished business, new ways to explore the cavernous space of the mind through sound. The centerpiece of Laughter is the nearly ten-minute “Living on a Curve,” which captures the deep meditative, trance-inducing power of improvisation and repetition, building from a solitary synth line and creating an expanse of melodic movement to its end.

Once an essential component to the music of Tiny Vipers, Fortino’s voice is used sparingly here, as an incantation to start the album on “Boarding Chiron’s Boat” and as solemn accompaniment on “K.I.S.S.” Yes, its meaning does indeed derive from the acronym “keep it simple, stupid.” In an interview with NPR, Fortino said, “‘Keep It Simple Stupid’ is a term used to remind us that although two people might have arrived at the same correct solution to an engineering problem, there are stupid, messy ways to get there. It wasn't enough to get the correct answer. How many steps did it take you? How scalable is your process? How easy is it for others to follow your work?”

In the grooves of those aforementioned folk records, Fortino’s voice was a woodwind instrument able to form words, thin and angular, occasionally splintering like it had a busted reed. Here, it blankets the background of the songs in which it is featured, bellowing but ultimately inobtrusive.

There is a pulsating brightness which permeates through “The Summing of Moments,” a solemn, ethereal tone which guides “Crossing the River of Yourself.” Both tracks convey a deep feeling of self-exploration without the use of words, accenting the very long journey which is life with the driving rhythm of the former and the rustling in the foreground of the latter, sounding like the winds that come before a thunderstorm. About three minutes into the 14:22 running time of the title track, the ominous foreboding has a scathing drone cut right through it, which crests and scales back throughout the rest of the piece, making way a symphony of ringing, quivering notes, and a heavy rustle underneath.

A feeling also reaches its summit in the quiet rumble of the last minutes of Laughter, the feeling of moving onto the next frontier, probing for the next method to search through what happens in the dark space of late night recording sessions and seeing what emotions might come out.

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