Playing shows in Seattle coffee shops and other venues during the past couple years, Jesy Fortino eventually put out a couple CDRs of her work. She was signed to Sub Pop after one of those releases made its way into the hearts and minds of people there, and Hands Across The Void is her official debut release. Mostly comprised of voice and acoustic guitar, the release nonetheless sounds like little else that shares the same instrumentation.
First off, the lyrics and music on the seven track album are dark and bleak. Like, curl up in a corner and not leave your house for a couple days bleak. It sounds more like a winter or a fall release, with sparse, simple guitar melodies playing out under pensive vocals that come in somewhere between Kristin Hersh and a dead-serious Joanna Newsom (there's no high-pitched squeaks or even signs of playfulness here). Oh yeah, and in addition to the guitar, there's some very occasional buzzes and hums from an Oberheim synth, which Fortino evidently found abandoned (!) in some bushes.
"Campfire Resemblence" opens the release with what's essentially a six-note guitar phrase that repeats throughout the entire song along with some background synth drones. Over it, Fortino adds breathy lead vocals with slightly higher harmonies, but the song never creeps past a crawl. After a couple slightly more mid-tempo paced tracks pick things up slight, one of the best songs on the release arrives in "Forest On Fire." Recorded with a bit more of a rough quality, the desperate lyrics ring even more true, while a subdued, but hyper fuzzy guitar mingles with some whirring synths and creates a palpable tension.
The album centerpiece is without at doubt "Swastika," which runs for over ten minutes and is split into three distinct sections. Rather than taking a more obvious course lyrically, it's largely about choices and what happens when the wrong ones are made. It's as sparse as they come, with many notes decaying to pure silence before the next one hits. It's this sort of super-sparse song construction, along with the vocal melodies and singing itself (which is outstanding in places but somewhat bland in others) that will leave most people feeling a middling pull towards it. There are certainly places where it has a hypnotic draw, and fans of slightly more experimental folk will probably want to seek it out, but most will wish it had a bit more substance behind the well constructed words.