Creativity in Quarantine: Dissonant New Music for the Birthday Blues

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August 7: Since publishing this piece about Stern’s latest and greatest, he’s released a new latest and greatest—his second quarantine song, which is exceptionally good and the poppiest Stern gets—and at this rate I’ll be singing his creative praises for eons, a task I gladly accept. Today the world welcomes “Concord Grapes on the Skyline.” Today is also Bandcamp Friday, so get on it if you dare ride the rollercoaster of Stern’s soundscape, with post-production magic by Caley Monahon-Ward. “It’s about everything breaking down around me,” Stern tells me. At least the music itself, and the original imagination that created it, is strongly resilient, and cause for continued celebration and inspiration. —DK

Adapting creatively in quarantine is a challenge for artists everywhere, but today brings cause for celebration: the release of new music and the birthday of its composer. Happy release day and birthday to the relentlessly imaginative New York musician Stern. His new track lays bare the “psychological effects of the pandemic” on his memory, mental health, and family, he tells me. The title’s inspiration came from his mother, whose care and support gave Stern the idea. “She’s my muse,” he says, crediting her with the impressive word “peregrinations,” meaning sojourn or journey, in “Peregrinations of a Rueful Mind.” (The rueful mind is Stern’s, not his mother’s.) The music is both disorienting and reorienting: an epic exploration, with a slow-motion collapse of space and time; a brilliantly layered implosion of guitar, synth, horns, percussion, and strings; real-life barn noises (don’t ask); aqua smudge (do ask); and harmonically open frontiers. Some is digital; some is acoustic. “The fake and the real. It’s hard to tell them apart,” he says.

You’ll know right away, within the first three dreamlike seconds, if the sound suits you or sends you screaming for the hills. The vocal tracks multiply and merge beautifully halfway through, thanks to the post-production of K.M. Abrams. What else would you expect from the Sphyoibian synapses of Stern, who previously fronted Time of Orchids and released an album on John Zorn’s legendary Tzadik label? Stern has also been rewatching “Tales From the Crypt” with his mom for inspiration, mining the show’s score for ideas. “I’ve arrived at this kind of ooze, this distilled ooze,” he tells me. “A lot of people feel they’re forced to be creative but they’re not making music, and they resent themselves for it. Me too, even before the pandemic. The process takes a little while.”

Exile, isolation, and feeling alone are the themes of Stern’s soundscape, but if his music is any indication, alone he definitely is not. Celebrated—on his birthday and always—he is.

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