Tiny Vipers and Psalmships Get Mellow

Local coffeehouse Burlap and Bean presented a show that was more mellow and complex than their coffee March 5.

NEWTOWNN SQUARE–Modern folk artists have a tendency to blend the negative and the positive.  There is always a light at the end of the tunnel, but on Saturday, presented two artists that brought the audience a heavy dose of melancholy.

Musically and lyrically there was no light, just the tunnel and the all the sounds in between.  Joshua Britton (a.k.a. Psalmships) and Jesy Fortino (a.k.a. Tiny Vipers) lulled the crowd into an infinite sadness and understanding of emotions that most people would prefer to sweep under the rug.

Tara Endicott, Burlap and Bean's booking manager, told Patch she had gotten some negative feedback for booking Philly-based Psalmships but, for her, Britton's music is cathartic.

"Everyone needs to make room for sadness," she explained.

Britton's sound is melodic like the tide lapping at the shore. The guitar and vocals creates a haunting combo that resembles a faint voice from an empty hallway. Liz Fullerton accompanied him on vocals. Her soft voice matched Britton well, and had a ghost-like echo. 

Even a slightly dysfunctional guitar chord added to the ambiance ,creating a soft buzz throughout the set that evoked the mood of a David Lynch film or the static of vinyl.

Lyrics like "my tears come closer to the truth" or "sometimes your voice is not enough" brought forward an emotionally exhausted sadness but, as Endicott said, there is a need for that sometimes.

"'Folk for me has more to do with what someone is saying, both verbally and musically, rather than the manner in which it's pronounced: the under-pinning, ever-present sadness of hard work, the selfish connection to spirituality, the cautious hand holding love; the impressive weight of the world versus the unbearable lightness of being; intoxicated oratories, small movements in the dark, grand notions of nothingness of absence or longing; real blood on real tracks," explained Britton. 

He continued to explain how the band became very personal.  There is a unique dynamic he brings to this project, which originally started out as something only to be recorded. He tried to incorporate musicians and friends at random who would become a part of the music without commitment.

"When you're alone, the manner in which you learn works because only you need to process what's being offered or experienced," said Britton. "In a band (like in any relationship), you strip away those processors and try to re-wire them amiably, so that what's being offered."

The evening show focused on the sounds in between.  The notes held longer, the moments when no vocals were needed.  This minimalist approach to folk music allows the audiences to linger, to think about the sound and the moment.

"I can always tell when something is missing from a room because the space left is dramatic and permits interpretation more quickly, less filtered by other items to get through first," said Britton.

Seattle's Tiny Vipers, headed by Fortino, headlined for the evening. Viper's latest album Life on Earth is an emotional echo filled with a softly driving yet simplistic sound. 

Her voice is reminiscent of Patty Smith or the acoustic albums of Kristin Hersh of Throwing Muses. Fortino played mainly with her head bowed, with little eye contact to the crowd, but the audience intently listened to every sparse note.  There was a deep silence and anticipation as they followed the haunting melodies. 

CBS Philly recently named Burlap and Bean one the best venues in the Philadelphia area and despite their size, they presented an exquisitely sounding show this past Saturday. 

In order to hear the sounds "in between," you needed to able to capture them.  Even though he wasn't on the bill, sound technician Kyle Schwartzwelder did an amazing job of presenting the auditory dichotomy performed by Psalmships and Tiny Vipers.


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