The Golden Record 

Jesse Sykes' Sounds of Existence

JESSE SYKES AND THE SWEET HEREAFTER Emotionally heavy.

JESSE SYKES AND THE SWEET HEREAFTER Emotionally heavy.

IF YOU'VE EVER found yourself out on the Pacific Northwest coast at midnight, fumbling blindly toward the indiscernible curves of the continent, your steps lit only by tiny explosions of bioluminescence and your better thoughts engulfed by the sound of the incoming tide, you may know what it's like to see Jesse Sykes live. Or maybe you've seen her, entranced in that showroom before; you've followed her through the brume to the furthest of untilled fallows without question, because truly, what other options exist at the time?

While Sykes' stage presence bears an undeniable weight supported by her band, the Sweet Hereafter, her past records have not always conveyed it in the most tangible way. Her wise and tempered voice can register as frail and affected, the arrangements too sparse and sporadic to fully latch onto, and the darkness can be easy to switch off. However, within the first breaths of Marble Son, Phil Wandscher's massive guitar riffs enter a room that once held only a relentless metronome—as heard in the eight-minute-long exercise in psychedelia, "Hushed by Devotion"—and a listener realizes that Sykes' latest record is a body of work to reckon with.

"Sonically, it sounds like what our lives felt like and we mirrored that; it's emotionally heavy. There was a lot of personal evolution happening at the same time as a lot of painful things," says Sykes, articulately reeling through the oscillations of births and deaths of the recent past.

Two events ring out in particular: the band's work with doom metal acts Boris and Sunn O))) on their collaborative album Altar—"Being brought into their world and witnessing how they make their art summoned this passion in us," says Sykes. And the severing of romantic ties from longtime partner Wandscher. "We didn't think the band was going to survive our breakup," she says with conviction. "And that forced us to not second guess anything."

And without apology, Marble Son takes shape in near-cataclysmic moments of distortion, beautifully faced with the duality of Sykes' bizarrely encumbered serenity and the fragility of the topics at hand. It will chisel out the curves of your face into an attentive, statuesque version of yourself, rapt at once with anxiety and calm, until the mellowed "Wooden Roses" drops you back into the dark night.

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