There is a snowboard trick, where, employing a portion of snow from behind the local hockey rink, you and your friends co-opt a public suburban handrail and, late into the night, explore funky ways of sliding atop it. One of your friends films all your best moves, and then, somehow, you eventually make a living. To me, a teenager with a magazine subscription and reasonable access to more than one mountain wintersports facility, this sounded like a pretty decent arrangement.
Not to say the whole concept of urban snowboard stunts wasn't terrifying and wholly unecessary and something I did not ever actually pursue. But during the downseason (approximately 361 days long in my case) I developed a preoccupation with spotting candidate railings for such an activity. They had to be publicly accessible, not spit directly onto a busy street, have a decent sloped run-in, and be free of those welded nubs installed to deter the very thing I'm taling about. When driving through unexplored neighbourhoods, or gazing out the window of a long bus ride or whatever, this was a pastime.
Soon, though, in my later teens, any delusions of professional athleticism gave way to delusions of professional musicianship and I began caring less about winter handrails and more about finding the perfect venue for my dream recording studio. I wanted to convert each remote cabin, or defunct church, or boarded-up storefront into a lush den of sonic experimentation. Apartment choices were judged on their tolerance for late night tambourine-ing. My daydreams were no longer of outerwear sponsorship but of magical wooden basements full of vintage synths, curious percussion, and autoharps. (And again, somehow, a career.)
These recording-studio fantasies were around the time my family owned 80 acres of land in the Caribou-Chilcotin region of BC, where we would spend a week or so each summer. One such trip we drove up to a forestry lookout station, a bedroom-sized wooden hut at the top of a nearby mountain, where a guy spends the season, alone, spotting forest fires. He came out and chatted with us and let us snoop around.
This was, to me, the ultimate recording studio! Logistics aside (diesel generators are loud) the prospect of writing and recording one's music in a small sun-bleached hut at the top of a mountain, hunched monkishly among birds of prey and patchy spring snow, well, that sounded like a pretty decent arrangement.
Years later I came across the album Welcome Nowhere by the artist Thanksgiving, and it is music with which I have come to identify strongly on an emotional level because it could have (or should have) been recorded in that hut, my impossible dreamland recording studio.
The album's sound is roomy and lazy, visited by woody knocks, birdcalls leaked through windows, and the hums of apathetic friends. Adrian Orange, the Portland musician who plays under the Thanksgiving name, writes and records like someone with few expectations anyone will hear his work, a mindset I am more than familiar with. At one point he sings "I'm gonna spend my life up this way, right in front of your eyes". Everything is lonely, bored, and resigned to failure. Phil Elverum, the Michaelangelo of wimpish analog music doodlers, makes a guest appearance.
Is it objectively good? I don't know. I appreciate the songs, I find the overall sentiment and aesthetic of the layers of recorded sound to be appealing on many levels, but end judgement is always evaluated via the filter of myself as a person and my previous selves and my feelings on everything. Welcome Nowhere for me is an example of opinion as conglomerate of past experience. Anyone reading this will probably not love the songs on this album in any special way, I am sorry. But I am also not sorry because it should be a comfort that to meaningfully explain yourself on any one stance is to explain your whole entire self as yet another weird brain on the planet.
For all I know Adrian Orange recorded this album in a high-tech suburban basement at sea level, surrounded by loving friends and family. But when I think about this album I think about damp pine boughs and quiet houses, and I think about the Jesmond fire lookout, and then snowboarding for some reason, and this leads me on a neural carpet ride across disparate past experiences that somehow effervesce into a general feeling, one way or another, about whether or not I like it. And I do! And that's my review.