Cross Record

Wabi-Sabi (Ba Da Bing Records)

Contact Jessica Linker about Cross Record

Dripping Springs, TX – known as “Gateway to the Hill Country” – is a remote, idyllic town with twisting roads and no underground water system. Here, one can rent a ranch that covers 18 acres, has a chicken coop and is located next to a bird sanctuary. Emily Cross did exactly that when she decamped here from Chicago two years ago with her husband, Dan Duszynski, who forms the other half of their band Cross Record. Between 60-hour work weeks at restaurants, supermarkets, and nannying, she composed an album that absorbs any workaday commonalities and shaped them into her smoky, atmospheric and gripping second album Wabi-Sabi.

Recorded slowly but meticulously throughout 2014 and into 2015 at the couple’s own Moon Phase Ranch, Wabi-Sabi is a crystallization of Cross’ past music (her debut album Be Good was released in 2013) as well as her passion for art. Having studied at the Burren College of Art in Ireland – where she first got into music with a bit of encouragement and a few pints of Guinness – Cross’ music is deeply intertwined with her artistic side. For example, the scorpions on the cover of Wabi-Sabi were photographed by her, and she regularly draws and paints in a nook above the studio. It was a photo taken in the moment as she found them in her bathtub. “We have quite a few scorpions out here in Texas,” Cross explains. “It’s an image that sticks to making the record here in this new environment – I’m definitely not used to having scorpions around, that’s for sure. Me and Dan are both Scorpios too – we both joke around about being like them!”

The way we interact and adapt to different and strange environments is a theme that permeates throughout Wabi-Sabi. Having grown fed up with the violence and lack of warmth in Chicago, Cross initially moved to Maine before heading to Dripping Springs with her now-husband – Duszynski – who performs live with Cross and also produced and engineered the record alongside additional production from one of Cross’ close friends Theo Karon. Austin-based musician Thor Harris (Swans, Bill Callahan) also contributed marimba, kalimba and what is described in the liner notes as a “mysterious black box”. “I’m very influenced by my surroundings and the natural world, the landscape here has definitely inspired me,” adds Cross on the records’ themes. “I’ve traveled a lot and I’ve lived in a lot of places. I think every experience molds us, right?”

While initial parts were recorded on a four-track while Cross was still in Chicago, most of what she wrote in Texas was recorded in the early and late hours of the day, with loons cawing in the distance thanks to that bird sanctuary. Duszynski and the now LA-based Karon would convert and transform it all during the day while she worked, then presenting her with material that required even further sculpting. This process went on for months as drums, samples and other miscellaneous instruments were recorded, ripped apart, and placed carefully into the music alongside the additional vocals of a ladies choir (Julia Lucile, Liz Baker, Anna Milk and Sarah Duncan).

The ambiance of those twilight evenings and orange dawns formed the heart and soul of Wabi-Sabi. The album contrasts Cross’ wispy, silvery singing and minimal presentation with the dark intensity of booming drums, thick guitar and destabilized electronics. It’s a record of dynamics and intensities, with lead single ‘Steady Waves’ seeing Cross’ gentle vocal unraveling as if from a spool, before descending into a heavy-hitting rhythmic stride. ‘High Rise’ is similarly tender throughout, but it also offers gloriously scratchy guitar lines and a distinct murkiness reminiscent of Grouper. ‘Basket’ showcases the eerier elements of Cross’ music, revealing the distinct potency in Cross’ softer side.

Her lyrics are often vivid and dreamlike, almost as if each word is another brushstroke in one of Cross’ paintings. It’s no wonder she’s into minimalist composer Steve Reich as well as artists Agnes Martin and David Hockney. “His [Hockney] paintings – there’s obviously some interaction going on, but they’re still. I mean, of course they are paintings, but even so, his work is kind of static”. The influences between Cross’ artistic and musical endeavors connect and resonate throughout much of Wabi-Sabi: a record that can be loud, stirring and unsettling, but also quietly still and serene. Ultimately, Wabi-Sabi is a bold, confident opening statement for 2016 that is sure to linger in minds for the months and year to come.