Best song: , “I WHO BEND THE TALL GRASSES” is one of the best songs of the year.
Worst song:Nah

I normally keep my work-life out of this space for a variety of reasons, but I do want to get something off my chest because a tweet – it’s always a tweet .

I struggle with this, as I find this type of production distracting. I host a podcast and the difference between my hosting and when Adam, our producer, hosts is that he leaves his mic on for the guests’ answers. Adam is Black and, if I can be so presumptuous, demonstrating what Sanders outlines above. Cooperative overlapping is not a standard in non-Black radio or TV interview traditions. I, of course, am white and am doing this in the service of an imagined professionalism.

(if it matters, I do make big fucking facial gestures, I nod my head, I make cartoon faces, I talk with my hands and I do all the hallmarks of reactive conversation, but I mute my mic while doing itnerviews because of the nature of the medium, I guess. I certainly don’t want our conversations on the show to be disjointed as they often are, but it’s an emerging medium. But I don’t want anyone to think I’m WASPing it up.)

It is also, as many in the replies say, a prominent feature of American Jewish conversation. I’m somewhat familiar with it, but my experience is more with interrupting, yelling and the Bernie Sanders-style of conversation. It’s less call-and-response than it is crabs-in-a-bucket. Everyone has their experience, I guess.

I guess I felt left out when these reply people said this was a hallmark of Judaism; in my suburban Jewish life, there is very little in the way of cooperative overlapping. But, of course, the American Jewish community is not a monolith and my experience – especially someone who came up in an interfaith home – is hardly the norm. And yet… A subset of my identifying and dealing with my own Jewish identity is finding my own place in American Judaism and loudly advocating for American Judaism’s import here in, well, America. The tl;dr version is that I’m tired of two ways of defining Judaism: Israel and Israel-focused discourse or in contrast to Christianity (Protestantism, in particular).

But that also needs to identify why Jewish culture is a subset of American culture. Some of that is linked up with other parts of American culture with which we share aspects of culture and customs, including cooperative overlapping. I don’t know that our show shouldn’t do that more; it does appear that Sanders does that on NPR as a way to move the notion of what “professional” shows sound like.

That’s really cool.

But, in also thinking about my own aversion to that sort of production on our show, I am wondering about how much my own perspective is through that lens of American Protestant thought that I decry so much. ~American culture~, insomuch as it exists at all, is often defined by those strictures. That suburban Judaism of my youth that I mentioned above? It’s largely defined by American Protestant custom from the ways the sanctuaries are built to the ways membership is built to the tunes that people use.

Every person’s experience is unique, for sure, and my experience of American Christianity is very much defined by a Catholicism that has an arms-length relationship with the formal church (as in: my dad’s family’s general bent) and the general late-20th century anti-religion movement within educated circles. I don’t know that any of my non-Jewish friends – most of my HS friends are not Jewish, if that matters – were big believers in Christ, but were rather the regular old secular Christmas-celebrating types.

Which is to say, evangelism didn’t hit me until I was in college. I’m still light on the Jesus stuff, but that side of it never hit me, especially the Eastern U.S. version that is so big a part of our world.

Enter LINGUA IGNOTA’s latest album, one of the best of the year. SINNER GET READY is a stripped, aggressive, overarching, wonderful, powerful album. It is the perfect companion to her previous gem, CALIGULA, in that it speaks of a deity to contrast the devil she sang of in 2019. But, the supposed loving God of Christ and the Holy Spirit is not necessarily who she invokes on SINNER GET READY, but rather one of judgment.

In a way, it is a Jewish album. Judaism has a long history of arguing with the almighty, from Abraham bargaining several times in Genesis to Jacob wrestling an angel (or maybe the almighty himself) to the Talmudic tradition of questioning, well, everything. Even now, it’s a joke on Jewish Twitter, proclaimed by its best members.

The first thing that people notice with LINGUA IGNOTA, almost certainly, is the caps lock. The shouting nature of the text is an Internet shortcut, but it feels less about screaming on SINNER GET READY than it feels like urgency, desperation and, mostly, reclaimed power.

After all, the LINGUA IGNOTA experience is very much about power. Her records teem with domination and sublimation, with exhortations and broken promises. “THE ORDER OF SPIRITUAL VIRGINS” begins with Hayter’s operatic “Hide your children, hide your husbands” repeated. Over a piano and occasional cacophony, the song dirges up and down with Hayter’s voice, culminating in her proclaiming “Sickness finds a way in/Etеrnal devotion” that moves eventually into a recording of a clip from a History Channel survivalist show contestant remembering his mother singing a hymn in church.

It’s no wonder that Hayter – who got her start singing in Catholic church choirs as a child – would use Christianity as a metaphor for these power dynamics, particularly the vengeful notion of sin – both original and earned. “I WHO BEND THE TALL GRASSES” has some of the most obvious theological references, with a church organ backing Hayter’s lyrics citing Corinthians and Colossians (yes, I had to look those both up) while sounding like Shellac’s “Prayer to God” in her request, no, demand:

Your fiery arrows studded with stars
I don’t give a fuck
Just kill him
You have to I’m not asking

As Hayter has said, the song is a transition out of CALIGULA’s shout singing into something different, but it fits within the albums perfect structure well. Isolating, painful and destructive, “I WHO BEND THE TALL GRASSES” is one of the best songs of the year.

I’m endlessly fascinated by the relation of the artist to their art and the distance therein. The artists who work with a nom de plume create a character, in a way in their music, but we live in an age of those personas running together (thanks, social media!). There are very few Bucketheads out there, being reclusive and creating mythologies and way more Marilyn Mansons, scumbags who begin to inhabit their stage characters. I know not the where Kristin Hayter/LINGUA IGNOTA fit within that dichotomy, nor do I care necessarily, but the art itself speaks so well for an abstracted artifice that I don’t know that I want to know a ton of her real life. Her Twitter persona (we live in the dumbest time in history) is a delight, however.

Because, ultimately, her humanity is what makes the abrasiveness shine through on the record. In less deft hands, SINNER GET READY is an unlistenable mess or an abrasive slog. It is far from either. Hayter perfectly thread the needle of intimacy and distance, vulnerability and power. “REPENT NOW CONFESS NOW,” for example, takes its title/refrain and its Appalachian arrangement from the Pennsylvania Turnpike, but the plea for mercy and mobility is more about surgery that Hayter had that nearly left her without the use of her legs. Her pleading cries are luminous and absorbing.

“THE PERPETUAL FLAME OF CENTRALIA” blends Hayter’s intimacy with the song’s Christian vengeance message of consequential faith. The title speaks to the fires of Hell that seemingly permeate this central Pennsylvania community (in reality, it’s a coal-seam fire that has been burning for nearly 60 years), but the lyrics are promises of righteous fury. The intimacy of Hayter’s piano , soft orchestration and vocals are mixed well in the production as she inones “Life is a song, a song And the raging fires of hell burn long.”

Hayter’s research shines on the record. She told Apple Music that she became particularly fascinated with a 16th century Catholic book called The Heart Of Man: Either A Temple Of God, Or A Habitation Of Satan, Represented In Ten Emblematical Figures, with the book influencing or directly contributing lyrics to the record. But the modern American Christian notion is not far from the album, with songs featuring Jimmy Swaggart sermon exercepts (“THE SACRED LINAMENT OF JUDGMENT”) and culminating in the penultimate song – “MAN IS LIKE A SPRING FLOWER” – and its intro featuring an interview with a sex worker who Swaggart frequented. The woman notes that Swaggart’s sincerity was anything but in said sermon and that, in fact, the real person was the one who she knew. Not the one on TV.

Ultimately, there lies a great deal of the genius of SINNER GET READY. It’s themes of power and vengeance are undergirded by a dark pessimism – and perhaps that’s Christianity? – about the nature of man. “MAN IS LIKE A SPRING FLOWER” again features Appalachian arrangements to back Hayter’s operatic vocals, producing a beautiful juxtaposition that rings dissonant yet true. She notes the ways the heart of man is an orchid, an open gulch, the seventh Gate of Hell and a crushed horse’s tail, as though coming to terms to humanity’s fate.

Which she does. The record ends with “THE SOLITARY BRETHREN OF EPHRATA,” a seeming acceptance of being alone (Hayter has talked about how SINNER GET READY is partially a breakup record), but a more powerful listener’s view into isolation itself.

In fact, this is what makes the record so perfect for this moment. The last two years have been an exercise in the heart of man being an open gulch and “THE SOLITARY BRETHREN OF EPHRATA” opens not with Hayter’s voice or a musical note, but rather a recording of a CNN interview with a woman going to church as the COVID-19 crisis was a few weeks old in April 2020. Since that interview was conducted, 5.27 million people have died of the disease – “covered in Jesus’ blood” or not. In fact, her defiance to the reporters’ pleaing that she could get other people sick – again, Jesus’ blood is not a vaccine, nor has it ever been – plays into the “I gotta get mine” base notion of American freedom that is, in fact, our national fatal flaw.

It feels fucking terrible, man.

I suspect Hayter did not write or record the album about COVID-19 solely; her explanations to Apple Music and Stereogum earlier this year suggest it was more about Hayter’s experience with moving to Pennsylvania and knowing nearly no one permeates the record and the aesthetics of the record follow. But Hayter is a practitioner of gesamtkunstwerk, so the record’s aesthetics are holistic. The record’s imagery shows her masked often – partially or fully, as on the cover – but always alone. The video for the brilliant “PENNSYLVANIA FURNACE” was shot, staged and produced by Hayter and Hayter alone.

The record is not that, of course, but it feels like something more. Her layering of vocals, her persona and her intensity all speak to this culminating moment in history on “THE SOLITARY BRETHREN OF EPHRATA.” Accepting, desperate. Alone.

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  • About Me

    I'm Ross Jordan Gianfortune. I am not a writer, but I sometimes write here about music and my life. I live in Washington, DC.

    I used to review each of Rolling Stone Magazine's top 500 albums of all time. Now I'm writing about albums I own.

    My work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Gazette, The Atlantic, Sno-Cone and a bunch of defunct zines.

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