t’s easy to lose yourself trying to dig up an artist’s narrative, the emotional and musical progressions that run through their output, the hinges, U-turns, and accidents along the way. The artists themselves seem to enjoy the process—why else stick to the record/release/tour whirlwind and cheekily toss off B-sides and demos? It’s there for the taking, mostly, and part of the fun regardless. It’s also what makes Burning Star Core mastermind C. Spencer Yeh’s absolute refusal to participate in the process so damnable, frustrating, and happily mystifying.
With an endless string of collaborations, one-offs, vinyl-only releases, and full-lengths spread across all manner of labels and distribution channels, Yeh’s output is impossible to keep up with for all but the most dedicated BSC lackeys. His lack of linearity also leads his albums in strange directions: Blood Lightning, his latest for No Fun Productions, consists of four of Yeh’s most thoughtful, terse studio compositions and, strangely, one 14-minute jam from a 2004 tour stop in Lexington.
It’s telling that Yeh is willing to interrupt perhaps his most concentrated and developed album to date to re-heat live material from a tour three years back. Artists, after all, are supposed to progress, or more accurately, they’re supposed to believe they progress, such that each album is better, or at least more refined, than the last. And why muddy up your improvements with old news? Most bands persist in believing in their own progression until old age forces them to step back and re-evaluate.
The dense, organ-fried pieces from 2005’s The Very Heart of the World are strained and dubbed-out here. The lean, drunk burps of “Deaf Mute Spinning Resonator” are archaic and mesmerizing. The sizzling drone of “The Universe Is Designed to Break Your Heart” gives way to far-East violin hallucinations. Yeh’s fiddle also shines on the live track, atop the din as Nero to his band’s Rome.
The real breakthrough, though, is “The Universe Is Designed to Break Your Mind,” which eschews any growl in favor of huge, open notes, the type of drone that could be played on a warm weekend afternoon, if not a warm weekend afternoon spent amongst friends. Sonically, it’s nothing Yeh hasn’t touched before, but its undeniable optimism throws much of the rest of his recent catalog—including his increasing reliance on morbid, devilish imagery—into sun-hued relief.
Yeh is not the type to release “defining” albums, though the immaculately packaged Blood Lightning is as varied, enchanting, and emotionally resonant as Yeh has ever sounded, even if it ultimately proves him as elusive and bucking as ever.