For someone most associated with ambient music, Brian Eno has had a lot to say about lyrics. Two quotes in particular come to mind, listening to Nate Scheible’s extraordinary new ambient tape Fairfax.
“Lyrics are the only thing to do with music that haven’t been made easier technically,” said Eno.
And on another occasion: “This is the great problem of lyrics … they always impose something that is so unmysterious.”
Fairfax is a beautiful exception to both rules. Visiting a north Virginia thrift shop, Scheible happened upon a cassette recording of a multi-part audio love letter recorded by an unnamed woman. Her voice is an emotional mix of sincerity, loneliness and age. Scheible has layered excerpts from her recordings over nine beautiful ambient tracks. The combination of words and music is both innovative and touching.
Musically, Fairfax delivers a number of high points. There’s a gorgeously warbled keyboard line on “with any kind of luck,” that’s paired with a heart-breaking saxophone performance by Sarah Hughes. And Kyle Farrell’s vibraphone on “there’s nothing that says I cannot dream” serves as an elegant close to the cassette.
But what sets this one apart is the thrift shop contribution. Because we only hear the woman’s voice, we’re left with a discomforting sense of neediness. Clearly this is a relationship built around some distance, literally and perhaps otherwise. And because she is clearly not a young woman, it’s easy to imagine that she’s clinging to her last romance.
There’s a matter-of-fact rawness in her voice, as she pleads for more letters; for less remoteness from her companion.
The story ends unresolved, but wholly satisfying.