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Like a Preternatural Flash:
New Music from Craig Spector

July 28th, 2021

Back in the early days of the pandemic, when the world was hunkering down for a year of cautious isolation, I posted a piece titled “Music to Span the Social Distance.” In it, I recommended finding respite from the bleak news of the day by seeking out tracks by some of my favorite musicians – ones who (in keeping with the general theme of this blog) are also accomplished writers (ala 21st Century Scops).

One of those writer-musicians is Craig Spector, whose last novel Turnaround is a “twisted meta-thriller set in Hollywood […] a bit of a Twilight Zone vibe, 21st century-style.”

In March 2020, Craig released a preview track from a forthcoming album to be called Dangertown. The track, titled “Gratitude,” impressed me then as a gritty slice of indie rock informed by Craig’s experience living with stage-four cancer.

Consider the lyrics:

  • Just when it seems that all is lost
    and everything is ash
    Comes a fleeting bit of light
    like a preternatural flash
    In that moment we can see the cost
    Everything is clear
    So very many scars to wear
    But nothing left to fear

What struck me about the track then was its balance of power and vulnerability. Featuring a backbone of driving guitar, bass, and drums overlaid with muscular vocals that proclaim, “we are the broken ones but we are strong.” Along the way, it reminds us that life is change, that no obstacle is forever, and that lying down and giving in is not an option.

Listening to it back in March 2020, I felt that Dangertown would be just the medicine we needed to get us through our days of Covid.

But waiting for it – much like the wait for a vaccine – proved longer than expected.

Instead of releasing the CD last spring, Craig continued working on the tracks throughout 2020, and along the way, the album that was to be titled Dangertown became a two-CD compilation aptly renamed Gratitude. It’s now available at craigspectormusic.com.

And it was worth the wait.

In an age when the concept of music album has been diminished with the rise of personalized playlists, Gratitude demands to be experienced as a whole. Running nearly two hours, it is composed primarily of alternating songs and instrumentals – sequenced in a way that allows ambient space for reflection on the lyrics. Consider, for example, the aptly titled “Heavy,” in which the singer ponders how “my dreams have all metastasized” and that perhaps the best strategy is simply to “suck it up and carry on.”

On the CD, “Heavy,” is followed by “Atmospheria Mysteria,” an instrumental with an infectious groove that echoes the transcendent work of Tangerine Dream and the late Edgar Froese. Listening to it, one may feel a sense that even after all seems lost, there awaits the promise of an interlude in which everything is clear.

A graduate of the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Craig is not only a master of his instruments but also of digital percussion and orchestration. Indeed, the percussion on the album is so nuanced that I was convinced it had to be the work of a master drummer – perhaps fellow writer-musician Richard Christian Matheson, with whom Craig performed on the CD Smash Cut.

But such is not the case.

“The drums were all via a virtual drummer,” Craig says. “I spent a LOT of time on that — literally hours per song — trying to make the drums sound more human. And funnily, I’d often sit there messing with a beat and thinking hmmmm, how would Richard play this?

He goes on to say that “one thing I did with each song was alter the beat enough so that no two fills at the end of a phrase are identical, each one is different. And it’s interesting to edit in the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) because the drumbeats show up as these stylized waveforms, and you can watch the wave shapeshift as you tweak the various controls. So a lot of time I was editing both visually as well as auditory.”

The result is organic, dynamic, and virtually indistinguishable from the real thing.

And so, after a year of anticipation, Gratitude has arrived like a preternatural flash to lead us from the ash of 2020 and into the light of a brighter summer.

It may only be an interlude between challenges, but it’s nonetheless a welcome one.

Images: CraigSpectorMusic.com