The most enjoyable part of writing for Somewhere Cold has always been, since the beginning, the discovery of great “unknown” artists who blow us away with their creativity, resourcefulness, and artistic vision. Whether it’s Jesse Eubanks creating drone liturgy, Bayta Darell soothing our ears with their melodic post-rock, For Wishes fusing folk songwriting sensibilities with dreamy influences, or The Sound Gallery presenting alternately menacing and peaceful ambient creations, independent artists have been quietly stealing our attention away from the more popular artists. These truly visionary artists are free from the restraints of corporate suits telling them how to create art; rather, these artists create music that moves them, without having to answer to the whims of record sales or music trends. We can now add St. Mary’s to this list. In what has to be one of the most fascinating and tragically beautiful releases we have come across, the full-length Oh Tremble, St. Mary’s (the pseudonym of Chad Merritt) offers slow moving, reverb laden, dark masterpieces of music that has to be heard to be truly experienced.
Everything about Oh Tremble is striking, from the hand-crafted artwork (featuring lyrics sheet and a strange but compelling picture on the front of the CD case, to the androgynous vocals of Merritt (sounding more like a soft female’s vocals than a man’s), to the tension laden yet softly droning songs. Oh Tremble combines elements of shoegaze, dreampop, slowcore, ambient music, and at times sounds like the most slowed-down and stretched out Cocteau Twins soundtrack one has ever heard. The CD begins with the foreboding #1 (the first in a series of three instrumental interludes on the CD. Featuring only a simple echoed piano line encased in eerie drones, #1 is an unnerving introduction to St. Mary’s’ sound. “Up in Flames” is the first true song on Oh Tremble, featuring Merritt’s strange but undeniably beautiful vocals singing over another echoed piano that is joined later by soft drones and even a musical saw. The mood is soft, delicate, and sullen on this simple yet gorgeously faint song. Next up is the (slightly) more conventional “A Darkness”. Featuring lyrics such as, “follow me into the night”, “A Darkness” presents itself as a reverb-drenched slowcore song, similar to Coastal’s most quiet moments, but instead featuring Merritt’s otherworldly falsetto. “Sarah Said” is a dreamy and fuller instrumental song, featuring light fuzzy drones supporting a simple but elegant guitar melody and very lightly brushed percussion. Somewhere in the mix of “Sarah Said” are barely audible half-whispered vocals that are content to hide in the background of the song. #2 appears after, with dark drones breaking the supple and faint mood established by the previous songs. As if on cue, the song that follows, “River on Tears”, is quite the study in darkness and tension. Disembodied background voices float “Oh what have I done?” over simple keyboards and drones for almost 2 ½ minutes. The slide guitar, brushed percussion, and gentle vocals of “I’m So Sorry” settle the listener back down a notch. This five-minute song is brilliantly fragile, sounding throughout the whole song as if it could drift off into nothingness at any moment. Indeed, the song simply drifts off at the end, and the aptly-titled “Ghosts” begins with Merritt’s vocals mixed relatively up-front (compared to the rest of the CD). A simple guitar line and strange spiralling noises complement Merritt’s voice. #3 rounds out the credited songs on Oh Tremble, with an elegant piano line supported by soft drones. This song would have been a beautiful and peaceful way to end Oh Tremble, but Merritt has provided a chilling hidden postlude that begs for a repeated listen (only for the brave).
St. Mary’s has created a whimsical work of art that sounds like it could be the soundtrack to a slow-moving horror movie. Through its repertoire of simple melodies, drones, reverb-soaked guitars, and alien-sounding vocals, Oh Tremble showcases a daring artist executing a singular musical vision. Oh Tremble is certainly one of the most interesting releases we’ve had arrive in our mailbox at Somewhere Cold. And not only is the CD interesting in a novelty kind of way, but it vividly immerses us into the strange, eerie, dark and sometimes heavenly world of Chad Merritt.