Kate Adams is a folk singer-songwriter from Chicago and Joshua Dumas is a sound artist and composer. Together they are Mending. And as the name suggests, they are mending music into something special. Apart from their solo careers, they decided to experiment with this ambitious and long-term project.
The whole project tells a story, it’s like an audiobook, but as a soundtrack divided into nine chapters (EP’s) which were edited every 2 months, from August 2018 to January 2020. It’s a 4-hour work with 40 songs. This incredible idea of making music breaks the concept of a song and a whole album is now an act, where the artists create their own scenario projected in our mind.
We Gathered Together at Wakerobin Hollow
The story hereby told is called We Gathered at Wakerobin Hollow. It’s a piece full of
Chapter 01: It All Starts at Odena
The first chapter starts with Emma’s birth and takes place in Odena, Alabama, where Emma will run a farm. It tells the first 18 years of Emma’s life, featuring her father Alan, Jen, her younger sister, her girlfriends Julia and Marsha, and Jon, Emma’s boyfriend who will become her husband. In this chapter, a great event happens: a huge fire takes place at the oil refinery where Alan works and he got injured. This changes their lives forever and drives the continuation of the story.
Musically, Joshua takes great advantage of noise and field-recordings, using synthesizers which creates a cinematic environment, combined with a piano and smooth, clean, and angelical vocals by Kate, giving a sense of drama, engaging perfectly with the lyrics. The melancholic mood is a constant exaggerated by the static sound -a constant too- that brings the feeling of an old VHS cassette, playing all these nostalgic memories.
Chapter 02: A Few Years in Asheville
After the tragic accident, Alan left Odena to towards the south-east, he never saw his girls again, and for a decade he wandered, homeless, struggling with trauma and alcohol. Meanwhile, Julia and Marsha entered university in Asheville, experienced their first loves, graduated, and started to work. The story goes on until their 30, and somewhere in time Julia’s done with Asheville and decided to move.
This chapter is a little bit different than the first one: the instrumental is more present, becoming the support of the tracks. It’s even more dramatic and emotional than sensorial, as it happens in the first chapter. Joshua evocates our deepest feelings and through his majestic work, we start connecting to the characters. The melodies are now darker and Kate sounds more human than angelical. It sounds like everything has grown.
Chapter 03: Julia Coming and Going
Julia consummates her wish as she moves to Brooklyn with Marsha. They’re both now living their adulthood, different lovers appear as they feel further from Odena. Their friendship becomes stronger during this past year but ties to their past remain strong and suddenly Julia has to return to their hometown due to some events. While there, Julia starts questioning her paths.
This third chapter is probably de most bustling until now. the sound artist explores not only the scenic and visual environment, brought through his synths and sound effects, but the time itself of the characters: two large compositions puts ourselves experiencing the feelings and thoughts of Julia and Marsha. The insistent usage of the piano turns it into something more personal as if the songs were divided by two different pieces: one is present in the role as if it was the soundtrack of the scene and the other is more ethereal as if it represents their mind and soul, while the singer-songwriter keeps telling the story.
Chapter 04: Homeward
As Marcha leaves New York and returns to Odean to provide caregiving for her aging parents she tries to find her footing back home, revisiting old haunts and fostering the remembering and re-activation of old friendships. The Back Alley is a representation of those times, and you can certainly feel a duality in the track sonority. A more dense and intense instrumental background seems to represent the darkness in some way, while the song turns itself into a more ethereal and positive vibe with her vocals. In itself, it seems the song represents somehow the capacity of the human being to re-adapt to adversities while dealing with old memories and old places.
Chapter 05: Sisters
Chapter 05 represents two warmer and quiet moments at the midpoint of this story. This is a glimpse into Emma and Jon’s life on the farm at Wakerobin Hollow. The track Emma At Wakerobin – one of 40 tracks that represent this stage – represents how Emma and Jen get closer together as they get the grips on their pasts while discussing their futures. The track is filled with a folk ambient that seems to make the listener float, and that is propitious for memories, nostalgia, and also positivity. The duet vocals sound perfectly harmonized – perhaps representing their relationship -. The song features piano, synthesizers, noise, and field-recording and sounds like a perfect mix of instrumental and ambient music with a folk sonority. And always sound breezy and airy: perfect to gather some thoughts.
Chapter 06: Rebuilding Transmissions
In the sixth part, Mending returns to a more cinematic approach. Songs fueled with classical elements and where the singing takes again central part in the narrated history. Focused on expressing the emotions related to the return of Emma and Jen’s father Alan, who has been disappeared for almost two decades as. a result of the aftermath of the refinery fire. Alan Catches A Break is a beautiful representation of a set of 4 tracks who linger on the melancholy and orchestral sound of mourning. The feelings of guilt and the homeless have a soundtrack for hope. One that is both classical, organic but also ambiently experimental. A symbol of forgiveness and finding the ones we lost.
Chapter 07: Julia Alone
All in all, Mending representation of the several stages of their story is one that never seizes to surprise. As we go through all the tracks we feel inside a story in a very different way from what we are used to with music. On the seventh part of this gorgeous “concept”, they return to Brooklyn and to Julia, focusing on her timings and responses via phone, letter, and email with her friends back home. Marsha Calls Julia is the perfect example of this stage, a song where the purposed modified vocals transmit a sense of miss-placement and – once again – melancholy. It makes all the sense in the world with the story it narrates. And as the nostalgia and loneliness give space to a natural disaster that threatens New York food supply, everything turns into preparation for Julia’s return to Odena.
Chapter 08: Everybody’s Coming to the Farm
As floodwaters claim the eastern seaboard and conflicts erupt, the climate refugees take action, with Emma representing one of the strongest steps into stability by creating a community on her farm at Wakerobin Hollow. Emma’s Mornings is a track that represents a stage where the story takes important steps into hope. As she invites friends and family to her farm, she manages to build a shared community that represents a small haven in an increasingly chaotic world. Composed by 6 tracks, these are perhaps the more positive and soulful tracks of this collection. There is a silver lining in the duet vocals, with the disruptive forces in the song feeling like they can’t take down the melodies that linger as the vocals cease to exist in the track. There is a sort of battle between static forces and loving melodies, and even though not explicitly, the latter always feels like the winner.
Chapter 09: Christopher at The End
Featuring 5 songs, the last chapter of this storytelling adventure represents closure and peace. Safe among family and friends, the six-year-old Christopher learns how the world evolves while he tries to make sense of it. With his (and everybody’s) life threatened by an authoritarian government, in tracks like Dad Went For Help we feel the world through this kid’s eyes (or ears). At times influenced by the ability of a child to make things softer and others broadcasting a firm and natural fear coming from his tender age, this is how the book ends. And with the final tracks filled with slow-building ambients and more restricted use of less organic elements, we can truly feel a mix of wonder and fear.
This is one of the most ambitious projects we’ve ever heard. It places music into a completely different position, jumping from opera, soundtracking, and ambient music to folk elements and noise elements, and everything in line to narrate this storytelling. Mending