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Youth Pastoral

by Ben Seretan

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1.
1 of 03:02
Filled to the brim with something fine - one spark and I'll explode Reach out for the edge of it, bite the hem of its robe Free to be... I'll be the lightning that cracks my own sky I'll be the water from my own eyes Point my body toward the moon, feel just how held back I've been Free to be... One of
2.
Power Zone 04:31
I'm your good boy. Am I your good boy?? Praying to the breeze, with asphalt in his knees? You will always be hungry for something you can't hold I knew you when my heart was full. Now I am alone in the power zone. You will always be hungry for something you can't hold. You will always be hungry for something you can't hold.
3.
In the ocean with my clothes on in late summer. Hands on my head, hands on my back - hold me down. They're holding up the sun. Tracks in the snow, abandoned theme park - the Holy Land. You can see them from I-90 - three crosses. They're holding up the sun. Everything's gonna be all right / you shine a little light for me Shine a light. They’re holding up the sun.
4.
I remade myself to your taste, poured myself into your coffee cup. I still hear your voice every time I fuck up - sugar in my pockets, damn me. Only the last time, I draw a straight line Deep in the cups of my collar bones, you poured yourself onto the floor. I still sit facing the door, but I'm alive, I'm alive, I'm alive. Only the last time, I draw a straight line
5.
"She's my good luck and my bad luck driving me around" I could feel you pulling away when I tried to pray Am I doing right by you, oh, my god? Am I doing right by you, oh my god! I still think that you might come back into my little life I can hear you sanding down the drywall in my room Am I doing right by you, oh, my god? Am I doing right by you, oh my god! When I met you my eyes were full of dying stars I would sing and my words would come right on back to me Am I doing right by you, oh, my god? Am I doing right by you, oh my god! Lighting fires in the wires of your ankles Word from you means less than nothing, oh my god.
6.
Shadow 03:04 video
You're my partner in this world And I can't stand alone Won't you hold me closer than my own shadow? My shadow
7.
I know something about you - I know how to sing you to sleep. Swim over to me, take me under where I belong Call out my name, I call out your name Call out my name, I call out your name But I'm not Come out from under that vile fog God is a wild dog running in its sleep Whisper the dreams you live by to a stiff breeze, shaking the trees Call out my name, I call out your name Call out my name, I call out your name But I'm not
8.
The smell of salt on your skin from swimming that night woke you up that morning My eyes can't stay dry, my time still to come In my home of endless bounty, my sweet, stupid Orange County Let me hear the cheers of fun zone, drinking beers on jetty's sharp stone Hallelujah, praise my god.
9.
I wanted that home underneath the bowing cypress but I was waiting for the olly olly oxen free Like a car that's rolling backwards into the ocean Didn't notice water lapping at the rearview But I wanted that home underneath the bowing cypress

about

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Water, change, hunger both physical and spiritual, the fire of unslakable thirst, life as a seaside christian teenager, ocean baptism, falling out of love with god, losing faith, the dull promise of even keeled happiness as you remember it from your childhood cul de sac, nostalgia as substance, substance abuse, codependency, willing with utter determination your life and body to change, turning god into a lover, turning a lover into god, letting go of all that, the thud of a bass drum booming in the distance and echoing off the buildings, finding ecstasy again after many years devoid, walls crumbling, lift, going from one to one of.

Youth Pastoral is a good title for this record. It’s a potent double meaning. On the one hand we can easily imagine young Ben rendered in soft oils standing ankle deep in the ocean surf, a lovely and naive portrait of a fondly remembered teenage California, a Beach Boys song. But there’s a pun, too - youth pastor-al - and now standing beside a young Ben in that ocean surf is a tragic figure, a man torn between needing to be cool in Oakley sunglasses and needing to be pious with a camo-wrapped bible, the tender of the flock and coffee shop meeter, a man who rides motocross, leaping from ramp to ramp in a desperate attempt to soar a bit closer to heaven.

These two figures collided once in real life, notably, in the central image of the album, when a young Ben decided to dedicate himself fully to the Faith. He chose to participate in an ocean baptism, a rededication of his life with Christ held in the gaping mouth of the Pacific. The youth pastor - spiritual leader in a flat brimmed hat - lowered him into the water. But this moment of ritual felt more like drowning, there was no divine light and no air beneath the briny current. Faith lost, superstructure gone. As Ben sings on “Holding Up the Sun,” - in the ocean with my clothes on in late summer / hands on my head / hands on my back / hold me down. Young Ben’s world crumbled but, as the walls came down, the light came in. He was cold, soaked with saltwater, out scot free from under a higher power.

Later, much later in life, Ben eerily felt that crumbled world freedom once again. Chewed up and spit out by piled-on life circumstances, Ben had to put it all back together again. He almost moved to Nebraska, he almost moved in with his parents. Instead, he made My Life’s Work, a twenty-four hour recording released on a 48-week long schedule throughout 2018. He started running on a treadmill all the time, he started going out dancing past sunrise every weekend. And he started putting these songs together, zeroing in on the significant overlap between breakup songs and lost god songs. And so the album wonders, between dance beats, gentle fingerpicking, ever-present harmonium, low end synth swells, and chaotic full band onslaughts, who do you build your life around? How brittle are the little truths that we cling to? And does loving someone turn them into a god, as merciless as the old testament?

This is the first proper LP of songs from Ben Seretan since summer 2016’s Bowl of Plums and, understandably in a darker and scarier world, this is a less starry-eyed outing. There are blemishes on the statues, termites in the foundation, so to speak. But the ecstatic joy remains, and the band is at times as gentle as an evening breeze and at others as ferocious as a house fire, taking cues from the broken sunny pop of Sparklehorse, the quiet/loud duality of Yo La Tengo, low end thumps of boogie music, and on at least one song, the windows down anthem of Phantom Planet.

There’s a great cast of collaborators. Nico Hedley - who released an excellent 7” under his name in 2019 - returns once again on bass. Dan Knishkowy - guitarist and songwriter in Adeline Hotel, in which Ben also plays guitar - hammers on crash cymbals and bashes out disco hi hats. Alex Lewis - radio producer and guitarist from Philadelphia’s the Early & Flat Mary Road - adds some heartbreaking lap steel and guitar cacophony that matches (or bests!) Ben’s playing. Dave Lackner - composer and reed wizard from Blue Jazz TV - contributed the final sprinkles of flute and sax from his home in New Haven and noted studio whiz and finger style ace Will Stratton mixed down the album.

Tragically - and there’s no elegant way to mention this - the sculptor Devra Freelander also appears on the record with her buoyant, full-hearted harmonies. Her performances are wonderful, but she did not live to see the album completed. Though the songs themselves have nothing, really, to do with losing a friend, it’s something from which the entire community of people involved with these songs is in the process of processing and the project is dedicated to her memory.

Please check out her work:
www.devrafreelander.com

credits

released February 28, 2020

Ben Seretan - songs, singing, guitar, keys, harmonium
Nico Hedley - bass, singing, synth, aux percussion
Dan Knishkowy - drums, singing, guitar
Alex Lewis - guitar, lap steel
Devra Freelander - singing
Dave Lackner - sax, flute
Alex Greiner - drones, synthesizer

Tracking by Jason Meagher at Black Dirt Studios
Additional tracking by Alex Greiner & Dave Lackner
"Bowing Cypress" recorded on a phone in a motel in rural New Jersey when we broke the key to Nico's truck
Antique pump organ on "Shadow" recorded by Tom Tierney in New Hampshire
Mixed by Will Stratton in Beacon, NY
Mastered by Gus Elg, Sky Onion Mastering

Dedicated to the memory of our friend Devra, whose tambourine still rattles in the wind

www.devrafreelander.com
medium.com/@benjamin.seretan/in-the-largeness-of-her-joy-two-songs-remembrance-5b35a2d921cd

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Ben Seretan Troy, New York

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