Bailey Miller - Still Water CS (Whited Sepulchre, 2022)
"To say that something invokes the uncanny is to describe an experience of something familiar, or even something secret, encountered in an unfamiliar context. The uncanny is effectively a kind of tension between recognition and its absence.
Producer, singer, and multi-instrumentalist Bailey Miller’s debut full length, Still Water, relies on just such a tension, and therefore achieves a sense of the uncanny in a languid hypnogogia. Over the course of nearly an hour, Miller’s clear voice gently and starkly plays against a spectrum of sounds: harp, violin, banjo, autoharp, software synths, pulsing drum machine –– all performed by Miller and often meticulously placed, never too densely layered. In certain cases, one version of Miller’s voice plays against another; the more intimate version appearing like fine, familiar stitching through a lush fabric of reverberant harmony. Miller’s singing is at times direct, declarative, with a lucidity that makes it feel almost spoken, recalling contemporaries like Karima Walker and Cross Record. When Miller sings: “my shrink sent me to the cemetery on assignment / she said gently, time to stop living in confinement,” there is a thoughtful, earthy directness. But a moment later, the scene is, however briefly, punctuated with a swell of lush,
The shuffling and juxtaposing of tactile instruments with otherworldly sounds finds a resonance with Shirley Collins’ recent Crowlink while the sheer height of that otherworldliness reaches places where
one finds Ian William Craig or Ana Roxanne. But like Roxanne, though Miller flirts continually with the cosmos, it is through a sense of close proximity that these songs are ultimately transmitted. Miller made
this work over three years, in five different homes, while undergoing one after another major upheaval. She joined and left an intentional community, started and stopped graduate programs three times, lived
through SSRI withdrawal and multiple career pivots, and suffered what she terms “a spiritual crisis.” This period of searching was perhaps sparked by a five-day silent retreat, after which Miller says that any word she uttered seemed to fall short. And during this time, Miller’s understanding of the role of music underwent upheaval too. The result was that “every song came from a place of great surrender.” This is
music born from a giving-over to the silent ground beneath everything, and however dream-laden it might sound, Miller herself is remarkably present.
A perennial resident of Ohio, it is perhaps no wonder that Miller’s songs rely on such tender directness, for though Still Water is shot through with reverberant swells and wistful spirals of sonic mist, the songs themselves are delivered with the kind of plaintiveness one learns while playing house shows in middle America. But that’s no trivialization. Such intimate spaces are just the place for self-reflection and heavy conversations about the biggest of things: mortality, God, existence itself. In those spaces, one might even feel pursued by such questions. Among her most crucial influences, Miller counts philosopher Simone Weil, whose work thrived on a similar tension between the worldly and the beyond. “Through the clouds,” Millers sings, “an opening / I didn’t see coming / unfurling / a swirling / and something / growing / over and over / again.” Bailey Miller’s Still Water is a record made over many places and through many changes, and it is all the more for this fact that it is an act of recognition –– of the familiar, the secret –– of what’s to be found uncannily within." - WS