August 7: Since I published this piece about Stern’s latest and greatest, he’s released a new latest and greatest—his second quarantine song, which is exceptionally good, the poppiest Stern gets. Today we get “Concord Grapes on the Skyline.” It’s also Bandcamp Friday, so get on it if you want the rollercoaster of Stern’s soundscape, with postproduction magic by Caley Monahon-Ward. “It’s about everything breaking down around me,” Stern tells me. At least the music, and the original imagination behind it, is strongly resilient, a cause for continued celebration and inspiration. —DK
Adapting creatively in quarantine is a challenge for artists everywhere, but today brings good news: the release of 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 postproduction 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.