The Keening make perfectly graceful and gothic music for autumn. The new project of Rebecca Vernon, formerly of Salt Lake City doom metal titans SubRosa, leans a bit further away from a more explicitly metal sound in favor of one that revels in a subtler kind of beauty on new album Little Bird. But those hints of Vernon’s background in heavier sounds still come creeping through the more gently haunting atmosphere.
Recorded with Billy Anderson (Sleep, Melvins, High on Fire), The Keening’s debut Little Bird is a gorgeous and intricate set of gothic dirges that center mood and melody. On leadoff track “Autumn,” Vernon delivers a darkly accessible waltz that feels like a bridge back to her former band, while “Eden” is rife with eerie organs and doomier guitars. On closer “The Truth,” Vernon and company even stretch out on a 17-minute epic that feels like several songs in one.
With The Keening’s debut album Little Bird out today via Relapse, Vernon broke down each of the songs on the album for us. Read about the background and inspiration behind each song, the fables therein and how some of them even go back as far as her SubRosa days, and stream the new album in its entirety.
“Autumn”: “‘Autumn’ is the oldest song on the album. It was written for the last SubRosa album, but was not included because it had a different, ‘folkier’ vibe than the rest of the songs. I’m pretty sure I can pinpoint this as the time when I first started thinking about doing a more folk-driven, minimal project like The Keening to have an umbrella for songs like this.”
“Eden”: “‘Eden’ also is an older song, which I rewrote several times. Before the rewrite, it wasn’t coming together, and was my least favorite song on the album. After the rewrite, it became my favorite song to perform live. ‘Eden’ is about leaving a place of innocence for a hard-earned wisdom. It asks the difficult question, ‘Is progress worth the price of all you lost?’ Ultimately, the song decides it is, but just barely.”
“Little Bird”: “‘Little Bird’ is the first song I wrote mostly on piano. After hauling my heavy keyboard with 88 weighted keys around for months now, I wish I had written it on a 25-key midi. Kidding. Little Bird’s theme is similar to ‘Eden’ – leaving a safe place of innocence for freedom and acknowledging the heavy price that so often follows.”
“Hunter I”: “This song tells the tale of being hunted by someone after being a witness to a murder they committed, and as a result, being inextricably linked in an ongoing dance with them for the rest of your life – they, wanting to silence you, and you, not wanting to destroy yourself – you run, and just keep on running.”
“Hunter II”: “This song is an extension of the first ‘Hunter,’ and gives a little more background on the hunter. He is a gentleman, and he basks in the glow of the ignis fatuus – “foolish fires” – caused by methane gas and decaying plants that lure unwary travelers to their deaths in miry bogs. I love the interplay of Kelly Schilling’s flute playing and Andrea Morgan’s masterful violin playing in the first part.”
“The Truth”: “I was really happy to get my roommate during the pandemic, Lisa Zimmerman, to contribute the opera vocals at the end of ‘The Truth.’ She is a classically trained vocalist who sings in theater, classical music and opera productions in Utah. The last third of the song (with the piano) is difficult for me to sing. On this album, I’ve had to push my voice in ways I didn’t think possible five years ago. This song is about the truth – that everyone likes to say they revere, but no one likes to face – me included.”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.