EMOTIONAL RELEASE Leveret often lets instrumentals speak. | Photo by Fin Sull
There’s really no good language for expressing grief. In an America steeped in postmodern self-consciousness and pop culture references, it’s pretty much impossible to pull off a first-order sincerity freed from the nagging, third-eye self-awareness of exactly how you’re processing your emotions. Are you being too maudlin? Too inexpressive? Too narcissistic? It’s like watching a Kieslowski film that bizarrely, cruelly stars yourself instead of a real actor. The alternatives aren’t any better. Bury your grief in irony and the feeling becomes even lonelier, like telling a bad in-joke that no one’s in on. And a steely silence doesn’t do anyone any favors.
Yet pretty much everyone deals with grief, specifically the death of a loved one, at a relatively early age. For most of us, the behavioral default is to take a short window, anywhere from a week to a month, to let our lives swell, collapse, and re-form again. Then, to some extent, that’s that.
Music is hardly safe from the limitations of self-consciousness and irony (not to mention commercially driven angst), but it’s proven to be wholly more effective at grappling with the death of a loved one than regular ol’ words for centuries now. Traditional vessels have included the folk ballad, the jazz march of a brass band, or a funereal doom-metal song, but we more or less understand how those make us feel. To hear grief expressed through a joyful electronic pop is a much fresher sort of language.
This has been the latest project of Leveret, which is the moniker of Jesse Gertz, a Portland-based producer and multi-instrumentalist. For a few years now, Gertz has made a playfully cerebral, sometimes noisy listeners’ electronica using a mélange of real and synthetic instruments. As an 18-year-old, he released an enjoyably ragtag collection of it under the name Glass Fingers. Now 20 and driven by this sudden new theme, Gertz has shifted his energies to Leveret, and Infinity is the result.
Eight songs, 40 minutes of kaleidoscopic pop textures, resonant melodies, and bubbling, infectious rhythms, Infinity is an inspired record. Half its songs are instrumental, lending it an unfinished, half-realized vibe both confusing and subtly fitting. And there’s enough experimentation to show that Gertz can get weird, yet he’s much more inclined to release his expressions through a sort of timbral narration, letting the instruments speak the emotions that words cannot. “Arms” passes a forlorn melody over a row of organ, saw, and bass riffs, while “Friends” ruminates on an erudite, Philip Glass-ian phase pattern. And there’s the fantastic “Outside,” which loops a shimmering guitar-folk melody over an abruptly skittering rhythm in a mesmerizing union of beauty and folly.
Electronic music can obscure feeling by definition, and some of Infinity’s best tracks are those which Gertz works hard to stay in front of. Track three, “Fall,” feels direct and intentional, like he’s reclaiming a subjective emotional space the first ten minutes had granted everyone equal access to. “Infinity,” a single-quality song, spins Gertz’s heartworn confessions into ecstatically slinky measures of an electro-pop so cool you’d expect David Byrne to chime in, virtually every verse introducing a new color to the sonic palette. And he rightly understands that “Poem,” the album’s slowly unfolding final dirge, demands an emotional statement to steer through its eight minutes.