The assignment starts out as nothing more than another fun Artist Home web piece. AH co-founder Kevin Sur brainstorms the idea to me via email—an ongoing series of articles highlighting some of our favorite Northwest-grown album cover art and packaging. The spark for the idea comes from the stunning presentation behind the vinyl pressing of Erik Blood’s newest full-length, Lost in Slow Motion.
“You should interview Erik about it,” Kevin suggests. Blood’s produced some of my favorite local records, he’s a formidable songwriter and musician in his own right, and the packaging on his newest album is, in a word, astonishing. Sold.
I email Blood to inquire about an interview. He’s affable, if guarded, online. “I’m happy you want to do this,” he writes. “[But] I feel like it would be best for you to speak with the artists who created the images before you speak to me. I’m pretty tight-lipped about the “meaning” of our personas.” Blood values the insights of Frank Correa (whose photography and collages adorn the album’s inner gatefold and center sleeve) and illustrator Joe Garber, who also shot the front and back cover photos. Once I’ve corresponded with the two of them, Blood explains, he’ll fill in the gaps of their observations.
Up to this point, I’ve only had a chance to admire the Lost in Slow Motion LP from afar. Then after many days searching, I unearth a copy nestled in the vinyl rack at Everyday Music on Capitol Hill. I take it home and liberate it from its cellophane confines. Then I do what any good junkie does: I throw the blood-red (of course) vinyl onto the turntable, lay in the half-light, and gaze at the cover and inserts while the music insinuates its way into my ears.
Blood himself—or at least the elegant black silhouette who’s served as his surrogate on a live stage for the last year or so—stares out from the front cover as I listen. A rectangle of white surrounds his haunted eyes as they emerge from beneath a black bolero hat, his figure in the forefront of a pastoral blue backdrop. On the back, singer/guitarist Irene Barber (Blood’s collaborator on most of the record and head of No Genre, the label distributing Lost in Slow Motion on audio cassette) stares out from her own mask of red face paint. Her face is all ghostly-white but for that vermillion strip and the mop of brown hair tousled above it. Her quietly intense gaze from that back cover follows you, no matter where you are in the room.
Both of these strange, alien-beautiful creatures populate the rest of the packaging and design. Correa’s collaged images range from ethereal (Blood’s Shadow and Barber’s Ghost standing on a mountaintop framed by a fuzzy full moon) to playful (a tiger’s tail, tree branches, birds, and elfin ears sprout from each figure’s profile in the gatefold). Garber’s evocative, surreal, gorgeously untidy images adorn album sleeve-sized slicks, each drawing tangentially illuminating song lyrics rendered on the reverse side. Lush, Arabic-flavored calligraphy by Christopher Rouleau filigrees the art and packaging throughout.
It’s a presentation and package of such jaw-dropping beauty it’s almost overwhelming. But every carefully-crafted photograph, collage, calligraphy letter, and drawing rests on bended knee in devotion to the heart of Lost in Slow Motion—namely, Blood’s music.
The dense layers of sound nod in some identifiable directions: Elements of shoegazer music, ambient electronica, and psychedelia emerge from the mix, with Blood serving as principal alchemist amidst guest appearances by Palaceer Lazaro/Ishmael Butler of Shabazz Palaces, former Turn-Ons guitarist Corey Gutch, and others. But the maze of atmosphere housed within the blood-red vinyl grooves displays its architect’s distinctive signature. It’s an assemblage of noises that alternately demands and defies every adjective in a writer’s quiver of verbal arrows.
All of this makes interviewing the people behind Lost in Slow Motion’s creation uniquely challenging. The obsessive nerd in me can’t help but want to put the entire visual presentation under a geeky microscope. The romantic creative in me—the one who scrawls words of poetry that no one will ever read, late at night just as narcosis is beginning to weigh my eyelids—whispers to just let it wash over me.
Correa and Garber get back to me via email over the course of the next two weeks, answering my list of rather trite questions with way more enthusiasm than they likely warrant. Like Erik Blood, both men are friendly correspondents. They readily acknowledge Blood’s singular vision, but their answers do little to clarify the enigma of what they’ve helped create.
Correa evokes every fun and vibrant creative you’ve ever been pals with in his responses. “Erik’s input to me was to do what ever I desired,” he writes, “and those are key words for me to go about my development. I worked on these images during the Scorpio Season and was definitely inspired and influenced by [that].”
Garber’s the more down-to-Earth but still staggeringly talented buddy in that same metaphoric friends’ circle. Among the topics we skim via email are the hints of David Bowie and Alejandro Jodorowsky imbedded in Blood’s and Barber’s personae, a connection Garber acknowledges. “On top of the references you mentioned,” he adds, “it also brings to mind the really strange moods that inhabit David Lynch and Dario Argento movies.”
I follow the colorful breadcrumbs Correa and Garber have laid out, back to Erik Blood’s email. Over the course of a week or two, Blood and I attempt to sync up for an in-person or phone chat. But he’s initially wracked with the flu, then hopscotching back-and-forth between Washington state and California for his forthcoming move to LA, and we eventually lose touch.
Several weeks pass by. In the interim, fall formally and fully digs in. Personal loss, death, and the waking nightmare that is the 2016 Presidential election each provide unexpected, sometimes unwelcome shades to the world within and without. By this time, Lost in Slow Motion’s ethereal, magically-touched music becomes the dominant soundtrack for my autumn.
Flash forward to December 9, and I’m breezing along rain-slicked streets that were carpeted in snow just one night before. It’s the second evening of Freakout Festival 2016. Around 11:15 that night I wander into Love City Love, the art space that sprouted defiantly from the husk of the old Royal Cleaners laundromat on Madison earlier this year. Erik Blood’s playing the last set that night, with his kindred spirit Irene Barber joining him.
Much of the music is pre-recorded but sumptuously mixed, and just loud enough to completely immerse the growing crowd. Blood and Barber—or more appropriately, their spectral surrogates—move in gently-synchronized choreography as the music eddies back and forth. They literally are the alien-beautiful creatures adorning the Lost in Slow Motion cover. Onstage, it’s just the two of them brandishing guitars, with small bricks of amplifiers and speakers hiding inconspicuously at the stage peripheries.
Blood-Shadow’s vocals lilt with disembodied beauty, one of many instruments building the wall of sounds filling the small, neon-backlit performance space. The epic, angelically beautiful voice of Barber’s Ghost soars clarion above and around the mix. The music percolates and surges in an indefinably gorgeous swirl of glacial electronics and organic currents, engulfing the crowd within seconds. The idle, droning audience chatter that normally pock-marks the space between notes at most music shows drops away like a trap door’s been opened beneath it.
I’m not on drugs, but the sounds generated by the neon-backlit figures onstage and the speakers surrounding them are squeezing off least a thousand emotional, physical, and sensual triggers in me. I feel immortal and beautiful as I shift with the serpentine curvature of the soundscapes. My mood enables me to slide fully into the music and the hypnotic visual presentation. I’m a sponge, or maybe these two alien-beautiful creatures are satellites taking all of the wounded romance and beauty in me, and refracting it back in CinemaScope and Surroundsound.
If being in love can be compacted into a few notes of music, it’s condensed in the aqueous guitar strums that gently break and swell in the middle of “The Attic System.” It’s streaming through Blood’s breathy croon on “Chase the Clouds,” a song as starry-eyed and sweaty and lit-up as two lovers anticipating shared sexual abandon. It courses along the drugged, handclap-punctuated guitar chords Blood slashes out in “Bloused Up” like the most unflinchingly honest confession one human can make in the arms of another. And it sends Blood’s Shadow and Barber’s Ghost into puckish, playful dance moves to the whooping delight of the audience during the stripped-down otherworldly funk of “Remove Control.”
I walk out into the rain after the show, euphoric and emboldened by what I’ve seen and heard. Sappy as it sounds, Lost in Slow Motion has spoken louder, clearer, and more eloquently about Erik Blood’s art and vision than the answers to a thousand emailed questions ever could. The music’s captured three months of heartache and hope, loss and discovery for me, in forty-some minutes of beautiful noise. And the art bursting from the album cover’s cardboard and glossy paper components isn’t just visual gilding. It’s the key that opened up that damned Cabinet of Magical Secrets.