If you’ve never heard of The National Lights you are not alone. In 2007, they recorded The Dead Will Walk, Dear – a song cycle about a Midwestern murder. And then nothing. Jacob Thomas Berns, Chris Keihne, and Sonya Cotton have been recording the follow-up, Whom The Sea Will Keep since 2008. Now, their second recording is finally seeing the light of day.
During the course of the last ten years the three have spread out with the three living in Baltimore, Maryland; Eugene, Oregon; and Salt Lake City, Utah. As a result, recording became more of a piece meal process, yet the results are fascinating. With the record in a constant state of flux, the themes remained constant, history and myth, fool and legend. The songs deal with ghosts, drownings, and white whales.
Telling the tale of a man sails around the world by himself ‘Joshua Slocum Sets Sail’ is a gentle breeze of banjo and piano, tinged with a sense of sadness. It tells the tale of the first man to circumnavigate the globe by himself. Dealing with a boat attacked and sunk by a sperm whale, the story of The Whaleship Essex ended up serving as the inspiration for Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Amidst the fragility of the arrangements there is sense that these songs were crafted in the same way a boat is built by hand, one board at a time. Harmonies and instruments, though fragile, grow in power when the moment is needed.
The five songs on this EP deal with a past now gone. The arrangements have a sense of beauty one doesn’t always hear in the twenty-first century. Their fragility makes them seen timeless, aided by the spare yet powerful instrumentation. Over a decade in the making, Whom The Sea Shall Keep needs to be savoured, each note serving as a guide to eras now gone forever.