April 15, 2013. In Clover, VA.
Clover, located in southern-central Virginia, used to be a thriving place, but now its destiny is one of sunken hope. In recent years, the town has lost its incorporated status and has become a thin, pale phantom of itself. It now sits silently in the midst of ‘gently rolling hills and thick forest’. The downtown area is a deserted ghost that has been left to ruminate on the past, cast aside into American history. The swaying traffic lights are largely redundant, but they are a reminder of a prosperous past as well as an eerie presence. Rainy downpours remember to soak the streets in an otherwise forgotten place. It’s an unforgiving change that has broken the neck of many a town, and not necessarily in places you would’ve predicted. Nowhere is immune to the economic struggle and the noose that wraps ever tighter to a community draped in a healthy past; one by one, the rope is cut and they fall by the wayside. The economy, rough at the best of times, shrivelled up, as did the industrial powerhouse; the dollars dried up along with the rusty, deserted yards. It’s all over the town, dusted by time; an addition to one of America’s graveyards, where a decaying statue of an angel stands protecting a lonely tombstone, hands cupped in prayer, almost mercilessly forgotten by the country they served, America.
Holy Ring of Chalk was recorded here, in Clover. The couple who make up Lost Trail, Zach and Denny Corsa, own a now-dilapidated house that has succumbed to decay, sagging upon a crumbling, concrete spine. The supply of electricity, once so prevalent, has dried up and vacated itself to history, too. The skeleton of the town is still intact, but the soul has departed. Through the recording, the seismic rumble of a nearby power plant is picked up, freight trains are carried through the open vacuum of the country and through the arched trees that leave gaps in the woods.
Lost Trail’s recordings are a passionate documentary as much as they are music, coughing out the past through cassette machines and portable digital recorders. The instruments may sound like a guitar, a banjo, a shortwave radio, but the real sounds are natural ones – the old house, the forest, Clover. Recorded in the space of a single evening, Holy Ring of Chalk is primal, yet intelligent. The ambient drone sprawls out to cover the whole area with a matured sound coated in fluidity. Radio frequencies pick up the faraway voices of vehicles as well as the intermittent vocal crackle on a disused telephone line. The progressive decline is hard to stop. The faint hope of recovery puts the town in serious danger, and ready to fill the emptiness are spirits desperate for a second chance.
A cacophony of white, lo-fi noise drops us on Clover’s streets, with no foundation to hold onto. Static-influenced spirits open the doorways of Clover in what is a tornado of desolation, flapping in the breeze like a sodden raincoat . Low rumbles and an eerie, phantom drone kiss the forest floor, levitating in an eerie shimmer. A banjo plucks out an ethereal layer of drone, as thin as a cobweb chaining two thin branches together. Stuck in the loop of history, like an EVP caught on a tape cassette, Lost Trail resuscitate her final days. The static shot scenery is one that has been recorded on an old VHS, the tops of trees floating against the pale cinnamon light of the soil. Pinpricks of grainy detail can be heard in the wind; a soft, rising pitch rippling through the veil and echoing over the streets, littered with posters of missing people.
Lost Trail’s music is largely peaceful, solemn and reminiscent, but it can, at times, contain a malevolent presence – one that has chosen to remain unseen, just like music herself. And like a classic horror movie, the monster/vampire/ghost/zombie that stays out of sight until the final scene is the winner, making the dreaded apparition that much scarier when it fully reveals itself. Lost Trail take things slowly, choosing to ditch shock value for a murky, invisible presence (it can get old when you repeatedly see the killer chasing blonde teenagers). The only problem is that you can’t switch off the music and tell yourself it’s only a movie. It’s very real, because the township’s decline and the atmosphere that the duo recorded is soaked in reality. The streets and the businesses that were once populated are now just a grainy sepia photograph, or perhaps a moving picture of their own that once championed their rich, thriving town. In 2013, it makes for an eerie sound.
It is a musical witchcraft of their own making – think the Jersey Devil or the Blair Witch - and although Lost Trail’s music isn’t anywhere near the genre witch-house, the couple literally redefine the term. Perhaps this old house belonged to a witch. The rattling branches and scraping leaves certainly put the seed of thought into the mind, as they rustle through the music and smack violently against the wooden sides like bloodied fingerprints daubed onto the walls. Her predecessors settled down quickly into what was a spectral, late-night-drone vibe, and Holy Ring of Chalk contains all of the beautiful decay of a living place tormented by death. Lost Trail are patient; the soft touch of radio interference cloaks the outer ambient layers with scrawled, scribbled subliminals that crunch through the static; creepy spoken-word passages and found sounds are given extra attention, developed broadly and frequently inserted, as is the addition of looped dialogue.
Lost Trail are capable of breathtakingly beautiful music, and these transparent drones rise up like the sizzling flames of a campfire. ‘The Opaque Ritual’ isn’t transparent, though. It lashes the listener with the industrial clangs of old, violently angry at what has become a state of decay, seen through a filmy, smudged lens. Black shapes that look vaguely human are blurred against the backdrop of white-hot smoke and ashen fire. The sublime is never distant – white clouds dissipate the terror, and a lost voice calls out for help, desperate for the void to release her enclosed presence. The atmosphere stifles the throat as well as the music. And when the ambient tones descend, it is an incredibly emotional experience; so quietly melancholic that it becomes very moving. The streets are eerie for their emptiness, but the window-panes are glass eyes that cry in their abandon, teardrops falling on the grass in the front yard and spilling onto the sidewalk of unwanted opportunities and wasted youth.
At other times, the drones distinctly sound like a classic alien abduction, as something that’s been seen in The X Files; America’s phenomenon playing out in the middle of the dense woodland, where an encounter with an unnatural aura of light is not the result of alcohol, intoxication or substance use. The lo-fi drones lose themselves in the long running lengths, the record progressing so quickly that it feels like a case of missing time. The white protective circle of chalk – the recorded music – litters the forest foliage, drawn in an uneven, shaky way that reflects the unstable, rusty atmosphere.
Nothing comes close to the beautiful, disembodied small town ambience of ‘The Rushing Gust’. The first four minutes alone are enough to support the belief that Lost Trail are right at the forefront of a special kind of drone; one that is as immersive as it is haunting, one that is as fresh as the rippling air yet decaying all the time in the natural disintegration of all things. Ascension is possible; the three dimensional is left for the fourth kind. A transcendent drone crosses over to the other side, and so too a dying place inhales one final breath before falling silent; a place in southern Virginia.
Still the drones, interspersed with static-infused voices and vague, blurred faces returning from the afterlife, call from beyond. Perhaps the residents never left.