Tomberlin is Sarah Beth Tomberlin, a pastor’s kid born in Florida, raised in rural Illinois. She wrote the majority of her debut, At Weddings (2018), while living at home. For a while after leaving home and church, she lived in Louisville, Kentucky. She worked a day job and kept writing songs. She posted some of these songs to Bandcamp, which led to her signing a record deal with Saddle Creek. It all happened fast: Less than a year after her first live show, she performed on Jimmy Kimmel and she ended up moving to L.A. which is where she wrote Projections (2020), her EP followup to At Weddings.
During the pandemic, Sarah Beth was all over the place, physically and mentally. Louisville. Los Angeles. Back home in Illinois for a bit. Brooklyn, where she’s now settled, she says. Brooklyn is also where her new album i don’t know who needs to hear this… was recorded, at Figure 8 studios over the course of two weeks, with producer and engineer Phil Weinrobe (who played a variety of instruments on the collection), and later mastered by Josh Bonati, also in Brooklyn.
“The theme of the record,” she explains, “is to examine, hold space, make an altar for the feelings.” Hold space: Tomberlin’s songs do it literally, making it heard space. Her full-length debut, At Weddings, was widely praised for the sparsity and delicacy of its instrumentation, especially in contrast with the emotional heft of her lyrics.
Here, the space feels larger and holier, built to echo. Pedal steel. Old acoustic guitars, freshly plucked. A drifting synthesizer. Chill, brushy percussion. Ambient, expansive clarinet and saxophone. Aleatory piano trills, a lot of piddling with the occasional splash. The looseness and wideness of the arrangements conveys a tender regard for their parts, as though each arpeggio, loop, scratch is a found shell or feather in the hand. Then there is the instrument of her voice, which has the endearing quality of being perfectly tuned but reluctantly played. “I’m not a singer,” she sings on “idkwntht.” “I’m just someone who’s guilty.
HOUSE OF CONFUSION is Trace Mountains’ third album and the rugged, earthier sibling to 2020’s Lost in the Country. Recorded in the winter of 2021 in various locations — a studio in the foothills of the Shawangunk Ridge in New York, a home along the Rondout Creek of the Hudson Valley, a Brooklyn apartment, and a small shared music workspace in Denver, Colorado — the album is an entangled assortment of thoughts, a hay bale of songs. Each one wrapped up in the intentions of the other, the album is comprised of road songs, rock songs, country songs, religious songs, disco songs, satanic songs, jams and simple tunes, laid out in careful presentation to use at your leisure.
In the year of the coronavirus pandemic which followed the release of Lost in the Country, primary songwriter Dave Benton — jobless & like many other musicians, with newfound time on his hands — threw himself into an early-morning routine of instrumental practice and dedicated songwriting time. “I was used to waking up early for my warehouse job, so when I got laid off, I just kept up that schedule and implemented another daily regimen focused on improving my guitar playing and writing songs.” He began exploring fingerstyle guitar, learning new picking patterns and implementing them into his songwriting. It was not the type of creative work Benton anticipated to have time for on the heels of a successful album release. Yet despite having been cut off from touring just after the release of Lost in the Country, Benton found a way to explore his world from home, crafting a new collection of songs that shared a sense of movement that he could only attribute to his time spent out on the road. “I was on the road in my mind,” he explains, “thinking back on my life as a musician — my successes, my failures — and I was reflecting on the ever-ongoing process of moving on that my life has been made up of”.
The result is a natural progression onward from Trace Mountains’ previous work, a look in the rearview that examines how things change and what that feels like. “I just started writing songs about that feeling we all have, of suddenly waking up to a brief moment of clear-headedness, like ‘Oh wow, HOW did we get here?’” he laughs. “I started thinking about that a lot and just approached the feeling from different points of view and different voices that felt relatable to me. A lot of that led back to images of the road.” Largely conveyed through the lens of the traveller, these visions of the road appear all throughout HOUSE OF CONFUSION — a friend smoking his pipe peering out on the open horizon, a winding backwoods stretch in the dead of night, or a view of the moon hanging low in the sky on a clear afternoon. Benton conjures scenes both real and imagined, blending past, present, and an abstract future together in pursuit of a revelation that feels just out of reach. The album’s overarching themes of friendship, love and the open road are wound carefully into every song, each one revealing a different stretch of the same road, with no true end in sight.
Benton says that taking HOUSE OF CONFUSION into the studio with his collaborators was easy and the band’s shared experience on the road deepened the group’s contributions to the material. “My band is essential and always has been,” he explains. “While I have been known to write the words and the bones of the songs, they really bring it to life and make it sing.” The players on the album remain essential to Benton’s vision for the music, with much of the magic emanating from the warmth of collaboration with close friends. This time around, he is joined by mainstay players Jim Hill (guitar, keys), Greg Rutkin (drums) and Susannah Cutler (voice, mellotron) – as well as new additions, Bernard Casserly (bass), J.R. Bohannon (pedal steel, guitar), David Grimaldi (guitar – tracks 4 & 5), and Ryan Jewell (drums, marimba track 4). The result of this new combination of players is a band that is effortlessly cohesive, loosely gliding through performances that could at any moment fall apart. Moving even further away from the bedroom-recording style of the band’s first proper album, 2018’s A Partner to Lean On, the songs and arrangements on HOUSE OF CONFUSION tip ever-more into the rootsier impulses of Lost in the Country, relying heavily on live recording & instrumentation that features the acoustic guitar and pedal steel. This shift reveals a new, understated complexity within the songs and the tangible, tactile nature of the performances evokes the free-flowing nature of influences like Tom Petty or Built to Spill, imbued throughout with the energy of country icon Emmylou Harris’ cult classic and band favorite, Wrecking Ball. All captured by recordist Matt Labozza (Palm, Palberta) at the New Paltz, NY studio Hum House in the span of a few days, the raw jams were taken home to be finished in Benton’s home studio and other locations over several months.