Dusted Reviews

Tiny Vipers - Hands Across the Void

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Tiny Vipers

Album: Hands Across the Void

Label: Sub Pop

Review date: Aug. 17, 2007

Tiny Vipers is one Jesy Fortino, a twentysomething Seattle songwriter and guitarist. Although she gets some help from guitarist Ben Cissner and producer Chris Common, her debut Hands Across the Void is decidedly a solo work, and a most intimate one at that. Most of the tracks on Hands consist only of Fortino’s simple guitar lines and her emotive wail of a voice, supported from time to time by a background wash of synths and feedback. Alongside the album’s apparent intimacy, however, lies a sense of impenetrability: Fortino invites the listener in only to gently push him away, hinting at depths that remain unrevealed.

While the overall tone of Hands is uniformly dark and foreboding (it wouldn’t be a stretch to label it goth-folk), it’s the vacillations and nuances that Fortino achieves within this mood that make the album particularly interesting. At times, she can be straightforward and inviting, matching confessional lyrics to inviting melodies (“On This Side,” “Shipwreck”). Yet even at her most accessible moments, something remains of the forbidding darkness that fully emerges on “Swastika,” the album’s 10-minute centerpiece. While it’s tricky to ascertain exactly what Fortino’s after on this curiously-titled track (the lyrics are often difficult to make out, and not printed on the packaging), it has something to do with elemental themes at play throughout Hands: the dualities of light and darkness, day and night, death and rebirth, destruction and creation, and the cycling between each of their terms. She can be a rather abstract lyricist, but this abstraction suggests a spiritual depth that gives her work a seriousness and weightiness that’s light years beyond that of most of her peers. The spiritual undertones are reflected in the music as well: the sustained single notes and chant-like vocals of “Swastika” suggest the incantations of Buddhist monks (and it’s probably not beside the point that Fortino dedicates her album to the people of Tibet either).

Although subtle, Fortino’s fluctuation between more accessible folk fare and dark dirges seems to mark a deliberate thwarting of listener expectations: what the lo-fi, stripped-down arrangements and raw vocals of Hands Across the Void ultimately express is not the person-to-person communication or “self-expression” that they usually connote, but rather something much more impersonal and deeper. Fortino is concerned with things much bigger than herself, and her music is more meditative than expressive. Indeed, one often has the sense that these songs were not meant to be heard at all; they seem less a product conceived with an audience in mind than they do Fortino’s own self-sufficient explorations. While Hands Across The Void may seem forbidding at times, its inscrutability is not a product of cageyness or pretension, but rather an uncommon ability to conceive of one’s art as something other than “self-expression.”

By Michael Cramer

Read More

View all articles by Michael Cramer

Find out more about Sub Pop

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.