NO EASY LISTENING: It would be hard to envision Enya spitting the serrated despair of Jaggery’s “Paucity City” anytime soon.
As children, we insisted on hearing the same bedtime stories every night, and we watched the same Disney movies over and over until we had the words memorized. I'm not sure how many of us ever outgrow the need for reassuring redundancy. As if most of our adult lives weren't tedious enough — even during rock shows, which attempt to break the monotony — there's always that one douchebag who wants to hear "Free Bird." That joke is expected and therefore makes douchebags happy.
"Patterns that were established during youth often replay with other people in your life, sometimes to the point of detrimental effects. I know I do that," clarifies Jaggery vocalist Mali Sastri when I admit I'm having trouble deciphering "Incestuous Tendencies," the opening track from Upon a Penumbra (which will be unveiled this Wednesday at Church).
Sastri and Rachel Jayson, the latter an adept of multiple classical stringed instruments, are sipping wine in the rehearsal space of the illustrious Cloud Club artist collective in the South End, where Sastri resides. Following our interview, I get all dorky and keyed up when they confirm that Neil Gaiman and Nine Inch Nails have partied here.
"I've done a lot of therapy," Sastri continues, "and that song is kind of me looking at the idea of trying to heal one of the primary relationships. I wonder why I'm attracted to certain people, in whatever sense. Is it because I'm trying to work something out that was injured in the past? Or is it because that's what's familiar and comfortable, so I replay it?"
It's strange she should feel that way about her personal life, given that her band — an otherworldly amalgamation of musical disciplines — share no such complex. A former NYC outfit that's existed since the early naughts, Jaggery prevail as the weirdest band on local bills, even alongside allied acts like the bizarre Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys. Maybe it's no coincidence that Jayson's also a full-time Broken Toy.
Sastri and Jayson are in fact the only members who live in Massachusetts. Hence, Jaggery operate as an amorphous collective as opposed to a boring ol' band. Some of the instrumentation came along serendipitously. Upon encountering Jayson at one of Cloud Club's ORG performance parties, Sastri recruited her for a string-quartet incarnation of Jaggery before ultimately making her a regular. It was also decided that the organization required a harpist — more or less because the opportunity presented itself.
Although zillions of bands either experiment too much or just tell people they experiment too much, Jaggery exist as sonic liquid that fills numerous pigeonholes. Forged with restrained jazz drums, elevated strings, piano and harp rippling like rain on a windshield, and a smidgen of world-music accompaniment, Upon a Penumbra is more a series of unsettling mediæval lullabies than anything you could call art rock. As she bounds and soars from fragile murmurs to smirking indignation to full-on operatic wailing, Sastri keeps everything safely distant from easy-listening territory. I can't envision Enya spitting the serrated despair Sastri conjures on "Paucity City."