“My firm was involved in waste,” explains Nick Shay, a protagonist from Don DeLillo’s junk-obsessed novel, Underworld. “We were waste handlers, waste traders, cosmologists of waste […] Waste is a religious thing. We entomb contaminated waste with a sense of reverence and dread. It is necessary to respect what we discard.”
Similar ideas run through Kleinmeister, the forthcoming album from Ruth Garbus on Orindal Records. Juxtaposing Adirondack green and cemetery stone grey with a lurid latex shine, the record presents the environment as a museum of trash—rotting fruit and meat laid out next to polyethylene and polystyrene and plasma-powered TV screens. The physical mess dictates a mental one too, old wounds and shitty thoughts persisting, because no longer are discarded items out of sight and out of mind. Rather, the great drifting detrital mass looms over both the landscape and conscience, the past not buried but everywhere, clogging up the present and the future too, refuse refusing to degrade.
“Waste has a solemn aura now,” DeLillo continues. “An aspect of untouchability.” To live in our world is to live amongst the debris of what has gone before.
Ruth Garbus has built a reputation in the New England arts scene as one of the most distinctive and divergent songwriters currently plying their trade. Aside from her work with buzz-pop band Happy Birthday, the psych-folk group Feathers and an experimental quintet alongside Wendy Eisenberg, the Brattleboro, VT-based artist has four solo releases that push against genre tropes in order to craft something weirder and more meaningful. As songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Chris Cohen puts it, “[Garbus’s] songs reaffirm the power of music itself and its basic elements—big and small intervals placed just so in time, the play of sound and meaning in words, parts put together without force or artifice.”
Her fifth solo record, Kleinmeister represents the perfection of Garbus’s esoteric art. Recorded with Travis Laplante and with production and mixing by Ryan Power, Kleinmeister is altogether more vivid than previous releases, and Garbus herself has worked to develop her own sound too—spending two years under the tutelage of opera singer Jim Anderson to fully realise her mezzo soprano vocal range.
Far from dampening Ruth Garbus’s idiosyncratic vision, the studio recording and professional training elevate it to a higher plane, lending a sanctified edge to the singular tone. Poetic and often bizarre, Kleinmeister is an album where light and dark are marbled into intricate swirls, the lasting emotion not anything as simple as happy or sad but rather a kind of extra-personal awe, that of standing before the great overwhelming forces of the world and still having to remember to breathe.
Today, we’re delighted to share the first single and opening track from Kleinmeister, ‘Strash’, a song which shares DeLillo’s reverence for and dread of garbage. Inspired by Elizabeth Royte’s Garbage Land, Ruth Garbus allows waste its true sensual dimensions, the track loaded with fecund imagery that blurs the line between life and death. The “insurmountable heaps, hot and green” and “visceral viscera wet cardboard steam” is set against an artificial backdrop of plastic toys and technology, the man-made sinking into the tangible world. Here, that which we throw away is not willed out of existence by distance and depth but all around us—Knee high, waist high—and Garbus leads us by the hand as we wade through it, looking for something we might recognise, something we thought we’d be able to forget.
Plasticated paper and popsicle sticks covered in algae
Leppy my stuffed animal being with me till I’m old now
This giant hole
Is the way
That I use
Oooooo she say
The song comes complete with a video directed by Joey Agresta. Check it out below:
Sept 01 Greenfield, MA @ The Root Cellar
Sept 13 Los Angeles, CA @ Teragram Ballroom (w/ Ty Segall)
Oct 19 Brooklyn, NY @ The Owl Music Parlor (w/ Kalbells & arrangements by Simon Hanes)
Photos by Annie Flanagan, album art by Ruth Garbus