Spooky Action At A Distance
Jeff Pearson, August 3, 2012
Let me start by saying that I am not a scientist. I am not even a science-minded person. The only class I ever failed in high school was Chemistry, my sophomore year, and I am pretty sure that when I re-took the class my junior year, the only reason I got a B was because the teacher pitied this kid with a more fully-developed beard than the rest of his younger male students, and didn’t want me to feel any worse about myself than he assumed I probably already did. When I learned that the title of Lotus Plaza’s second album, Spooky Action At A Distance, was a phrase coined by Albert Einstein pertaining to quantum mechanics, I, of course, had some questions that I needed Wikipedia to answer. After trying to digest and understand the information presented to me, napping away the headache that this learning adventure manifested, cursing not the gods, but the mind that formulated this scientific theorem, and finally angrily editing the entry to say, “Oh yeah? Well Einstein didn’t know shit about love, man,” and having my Wikipedia account banned for a week as a result, with nowhere to turn for all of my useless information needs, I began to slightly understand what Einstein meant.
Basically, to take the layman’s terms and put them in my terms, “spooky action at a distance” refers to the interaction between two objects that are not physically connected. As I said, science isn’t something I am going to be able to expound upon, so that’s the best I can do. You start talking astrophysics and my mind is likely to drift off into the depths of the very space you might be attempting to discuss with me. Music, however, is something I can connect with. When I think about the progression that Lockett Pundt’s music as Lotus Plaza has made just from his first album, The Floodlight Collective, to Spooky Action At A Distance, from cryptic, drowning-in-reverb lyrics to direct and personal reflections, the fact that he took this particular page out of his science textbook to name the album doesn’t surprise me. The connection that Pundt is making between himself and the listener, across the vast airwaves by means of opening himself up a little bit more and making a truthful, from-the-heart record is the artistic embodiment of Einstein’s mathematic calculations.
As the somewhat enigmatic foil to the convivial Bradford Cox in Deerhunter, Pundt has always shied away from the limelight. At shows, he slowly wades through the oceans of sound that he creates on the guitar, never wavering in his focus. His first solo album was a representation of that side of Pundt; The Floodlight Collective had a very improvisational and experimental tinge to both the music and the lyrics, and often the free-form songs would become a curtain of affected guitars draped over unintelligible vocals. After getting used to the idea of being the focal point in not only Lotus Plaza, but taking the lead on a couple of songs off Deerhunter’s latest record, Halcyon Digest, he is becoming more open to putting himself out there. Pundt has stated that with Spooky Action At A Distance, he was trying to be more honest and let people into his world a little bit more. The result is a concise ten-song collection combining Pundt’s sonic prowess and melodic ear with pop sensibilities and personal lyrical touches. The record is Lotus Plaza at its best, and perhaps Pundt himself at his best.
Serving as the bookends to Spooky Action At A Distance are ambient washes of guitar, meant to serve as both a distinctive entry and exit point to what lies between; Pundt wanted to introduce the listener to the textural theme of the record before jumping into a song, and the final drone is meant to snap the both the listener and the character of the final song back into their personal realities, awaken them from a dream. It’s sort of ironic that Pundt’s most grounded work to date is placed in the context of a dream-state, almost as if he still wants to keep a certain shroud of mystery around himself, for fear of being too exposed. As “Untitled” gives way to “Strangers,” warm guitars immediately wrap around one another, each sound delicately swirling about the room and completely enveloping the listener. Pundt has a keen sense of atmosphere, and it is already apparent on the record; the somewhat frantic drum loop he has programmed—Pundt does all of the drum programming in addition to playing every instrument on the record—seems to reflect the dizzying life on the road that he is describing. He seems detached from his surroundings, or rather that his surroundings are detached from him as he sings “Distant eyes dream / Strangers from another place / Circling around / To be left without a trace.”
On “Out Of Touch” and “Dusty Rhodes,” he sings of making a new life, which, though it is never directly addressed, is likely reflective of the fact that he is set to be married in September. He asks the subject of “Dusty Rhodes” that should he have to leave this life, presumably as a touring musician, behind him, would they join him in a peaceful anonymity. Over punchy drums and acoustic guitar swells, Pundt sings “When there comes a day when I must go / Would you leave with me? / We’d leap into the unknown / Fade into the unknown.” Much of the album’s lyrics are in this vein–in addition to the adaptations he has to make as a touring musician, trying to distinguish the faces from one city to the next, Pundt touches a lot on relationships with the people who mean the most to him. A prevalent theme of the lyrical content on Spooky Action At A Distance is friendship; he speaks about not only maintaining and nurturing friendships, but building new ones and growing apart from old friends.
The most poignant example of Pundt addressing fading friendships is on “Remember Our Days,” which seems to be a final goodbye to someone very close to him. The song has a stark contrast from the somber and very moving lyrics and fluid, uplifting instrumentation. As Pundt repeats “Did you meet all your plans? / And smile, the time that we spent / If I don’t see you again / I’m glad that you were my friend / I’ll remember our days,” a rifling bass propulsion appears to buoy the lofty, atmospheric guitars. The variance of moods contained in the subject matter and overall climate of the song is very effective; the fact that the song has a somewhat uplifting sound only serves to make the lyrics stand out as all the more heartbreaking, and makes “Remember Our Days” perhaps Lotus Plaza’s crowning achievement.
All across Spooky Action At A Distance, however, the listener will be enthralled with Pundt’s attention to detail and sharp sense for building an atmosphere around a song. “Jet Out Of The Blue” is a fast-paced combination of swirling, otherworldly guitars and a very basic descending piano line that seems to be the only line connecting the song to earth, while “Eveningness” sounds like a dreamscape from the very start—twinkling guitars rain on a basic drum pattern and syrupy vocals. Thunderous drums and infectious guitar lines combine on “Monoliths,” as Pundt presents perhaps his most fully realized pop song. The moment when he harmonizes his vocal on the chorus, singing, “One of these days, I’ll come around,” is one of those times in music when the listener is elevated to a new level of awareness, each minute movement of the leaves blowing in the wind is amplified and seemingly felt from within yourself. It’s a time when we realize we are all connected, and Pundt has effectively connected the listener to his own words; it’s hard to imagine hearing that song and not coming out of it thinking, “One of these days, I’ll come around, too, Lockett.”
What it comes down to is these connections that are made throughout Spooky Action At A Distance are what make the record a truly remarkable effort. He is not only able to connect the listener to himself through his lyrics, but the combinations of the moods and just the right mindset, the songs within are able to connect everyone to everything. We can all relate to the sounds and thoughts presented here. Everyone knows what is like to grow apart from friends, knowing the love for those people will never change, but that life just sometimes gets between them. With this record, Lockett Pundt has done his best to bridge that gap through the universal vehicle of music, understanding that there are very few things in life that can bring together two people who are no longer physically connected. Spooky action, indeed.