Released on June 21, 2022
SOME WRITING FROM JEREMY THAL — FEBRUARY 18, 2022
Orisis was our first album, and as I listen to it now, it feels like it belongs to another time, a time we didn’t yet have smartphones, when I would walk down Cortelyou road to hand with Gideon and his girlfriend at the time, when we’d work on songs in this tiny room in that apartment. One day when Gideon emailed a recording – probably recorded on an first-generation Zoom recorder and loaded into iTunes – it came up on my iTunes as being by the band “Briars of North America,” and I liked the name, and it seemed pretty legit to just appear like that. This was in the era of ‘Brooklyn Pastoral’ when I was listening to a lot of Phosphorescent and Beirut, talking about permaculture and learning how to flatpick old timey tunes.
After about 4 years living in Brooklyn, Gideon and I decided to move up to Hudson. This was before Hudson is what it is now, before the endless stream of NYTimes articles discovered the place and it became synonymous with the post-hipster exodus from Williamsburg. It was fun. Our friends made cheese, converted cars to run on grease, and started a woodfire pizza truck. Gideon and I coached a youth radio show on WGXC (we even produced the theme song, which played incessantly for several years). Most of Orisis was recorded in our tiny apartment in the attic of an old house on Washington street. Rob Caldwell, who owned Musica on Columbia St, also let us record in the music shop’s basement, where it was bone-chillingly cold but decently sound-insulated. We recorded the whole album on a two-channel mBox and a couple of cheap mics, with help from our friends: Otto Hauser on drums, Greg Chudzik on bass, and Simon Jermyn on vocals, and a cameo by Elana Carroll on the vocals of "Sunnytown."
The album caught the attention of friend and neighbor Meshell Ndegeocello, whom we had played with at the concert for the opening of WGXC. At the time, she helped us try to define what the album was, and came up with an unexpected: “Devotional.” Sure, we were bearded Jewish boys who sang about Jesus, but that was just because we were covering shapenote tunes, a la Sam Amidon (the brother of early Briars collaborator, Stefan Amidon). But after a while we realized Meshell was right, we were making, and still are making, non-religious devotional music for those who have lost faith in the conventional gods. At the time, I wrote this in email interview with Katy Henrikson who was writing for for Rumpus magazine:
The album reflects a desire to return to a life of simplicity, a sort of reinvention of the rural, the small town, a way to reorganize human relations outside the context of apocalyptic capitalism… As Meshell says, “Simplicity is the new wealth.”
…I play music because it draws together all the disintegrating strands of life into something palatable, comprehensible, moving—it conjures the spirit behind all or disparate suffering and joy and holds it for a second, a kind of unique singularity in an expanding cosmos… Music exists in a ceremonial space, where certain kinds of emotionally crystallized structures become malleable.
Reading this now it feels like the dude who wrote it is from a different universe, a place I loved but can’t quite return to. Back then we used to write songs about the apocalypse with a kind of backwards nostalgia for it. Now that we are living it, I am nostalgic for the days of affordable rents and janky shows at the Spotted Dog, when everyone was talking about starting a farm, and we had a lot of spontaneous dance parties.
Things fall apart, friendships shift, and what used to be a kind of playful irony has become endemic hopelessness. And yet, when I listen back to Orisis, I realize I still believe what we believed then, that there’s a way to tap into music that brings us back to our most essential selves. I can still close my eyes and see the old Vermonter couple who inspired the song “What makes it so,” – tell us about the shimmering energy in the stillness of the winter woods.
SOME WRITING FROM THE BAND — OCTOBER 2011
Two birds, splendid in flight, hit a glass window. Trees, hills, sky, apples, snow, heartache for one. Suburban houses, Maoists, lilies, driveways, french fries, heartbreak for the other. Their bodies are picked up off the ground by the spirit. It holds their warm broken bodies and nurses them back to health, in a box that floats strung along by butterflies high above this world, showing them things they'd long forgot. They travel for ages, or for instants, and remember the most important thing the spirit told them. They can't tell you what this is, but they sing it.