On their September album from The Flenser, The Lamb As Effigy or Three Hundred And Fifty XOXOXOS For A Spark Union With My Darling Divine, the California group Sprain wade from a state of existential flux towards ecstasy and back again.
Using pieces of a rock band but expanding well beyond that starting point both instrumentally and structure-wise, Sprain move from a world-ending barrage of drums and other instrumentation to silence, through whispered vocals to performances more akin to a wail, and from guitar-led ambience to incomprehensible bursts of sound meant on the closing track to evoke remarks from the titular Lamb.
In short, it’s a thrillingly adventurous ride. Sprain hold together The Lamb As Effigy with a spark of vitality driving every transition, whether abrupt or telegraphed. The massive sonic house the band have constructed creaks with every metaphorical step, outlining anxiety in which both your body and mind spin.
Sprain take The Lamb As Effigy outside mere sequential progress to embody a sense of arguably astral conflict. Sonically, the album reflects a spiraling back-and-forth of negotiations between yourself and whatever your environment may be, with the unsteady path you walk leading into the feeling you just don’t belong—while afterwards, the gnawing sense of lack simply continues.
Using lengthy songs that twice approach 25 minutes, Sprain deliver not just atmosphere but soul-level nausea that’s squarely in focus. It’s the feeling of confronting God—or a god—but not quite knowing what you’re beholding, with the whole scene transpiring on the front porch of a clearly dated, decaying residence around which the environment bustles though nobody there seems to notice. Towards the conclusion, vocalist/guitarist Alex Kent can be heard walking away from the microphone, then delivering vocals from a distance.
Below, see what Kent has to say regarding The Lamb As Effigy, ranging from an interest in not coming across as pretentious to the general mindset within Sprain of “no limitations.” Kent is joined in the group by bassist April Gerloff, guitarist Sylvie Simmons, and percussionist Clint Dodson.
The Lamb As Effigy, or Three Hundred And Fifty XOXOXOS For A Spark Union With My Darling Divine, is monumental in scope. How does it feel to have it completed and ready to release? What are your feelings towards and general perspective on the songs now that you’ve reached this point?
Thank you for having me! I believe the proper term for how I’m feeling in regards to the record’s release is relief. I am completely relieved that it does in fact exist, and I can finally let go of it.
For a long time, due to various hindrances, we were unsure of whether or not the record would ever see the light of day, or if we were able to continue playing at all. It is an enormous weight off our shoulders for it to be finished, soon to be released, and no longer our burden to bear.
Frankly, I have not listened to the record since approving the masters. At the point of release, there is typically no real joy in hearing the recordings, as I have had to listen to them hundreds of times. It eventually all just starts to sound like white noise and self-criticism to me. As soon as I am finished with a project, the majority of the exploratory elements tend to wane, and I become somewhat disinterested. I am proud of (or not embarrassed of, at least!) the record, though, and I enjoy performing and twisting the songs further in the live setting.
This latest effort from Sprain is, of course, rather unique in execution. Though genre terms are limiting, it veers from something in the realm of experimental rock and slowcore to what sounded like haunted church music (except not in the Ghost way). What was your relationship to expectation while making an album this sweeping? In other words, did you ever stop to consider how it would be received?
Thank you for the kind words! I would like to make it clear that there was never any intention of grandiosity or some bullshit like that with this record. It ended up being as long as it is because that’s how long the songs ended up. There was never any attempt at impressing anyone or posturing an achievement. Obviously, it is not entirely possible to create anything without being at least somewhat cognisant of the fact that someone somewhere is going to listen, but ultimately, I try my best to ignore how they might feel. To the great benefit of the music, we removed the limitations and expectations that used to shackle our process. Going forward, this is how every Sprain album will be created.
Thematically, do you feel like The Lamb As Effigy more represents something realistic—something drawn emotionally or otherwise from your everyday lives—or did it ever become more of a self-contained tale and journey, so to speak?
There are definite themes and connectivity there, but I don’t think there is one grand, overarching journey or whatever. Sometimes I write from my own perspective, and other times I write from a non-personal perspective, but it is naturally filtered and tainted by my own qualia. I would identify the primary themes of this record, both personal and universal, as guilt, god, and sex. I’m not a particularly intelligent person, so I stick to very basic emotions and subjects.
With The Lamb As Effigy, what underpinned the expansive sound palette that we find on this album? Did you just throw open the metaphorical doors to whatever seemed to fit, creatively?
Exactly, it was an “everything and the kitchen sink” mentality. No limitations. Why did we bother with them in the first place? Perhaps a lack of confidence … Moving forward, I just couldn’t justify not using all these instruments and sources we had collected over the years. A big regret of mine with the previous records is that we, for no sensible reason, limited the instrumentation to that of your standard rock band. It just made absolutely zero sense to not use every tool at our disposal. The songs became much more texturally focused, so it was only natural they lent themselves to a wider instrumental palette.
Though the label could be attached, do you think of yourselves in Sprain as being particularly “experimental,” or do you feel you’re concerning yourselves more with just fulfilling your musical vision?
I actually do consider us to be experimental, but only because throughout the creation of the record, we were endlessly trying different techniques and approaches for each of the songs. We were sifting through a sandbox of ideas trying to find the proper pieces of the puzzle. I suppose that constitutes us as experimental, right?
Ultimately, we are concerned foremost with creating honest work, and I suppose that includes a deal of experimentation. I’m not so sure what it means anymore, to be experimental, or if it really means anything at all. I’m not trying to speak with pretense here, or claim I am above anything, I just think the term is totally tired. I often see it applied in a journalistic way with such malleability that it can really mean anything. The vocabulary surrounding music culture is not a language I am particularly engaged with.
Religious imagery appears on The Lamb As Effigy from Sprain. However much you feel compelled to share, how would you describe your relationship to spirituality or something outside of ourselves, at least as it is explored in this album? Is that something that really had weight in this creative process?
I do incorporate religious imagery, particularly the Judeo-Christian variety, but not exclusively. I was raised Catholic, and even attended Catholic school for nine years. As a result, I am quite familiar with the religion, and it’s inevitably permeated my entire being, as I was steeped in it throughout the entirety of my formative years.
I try to stick to what I know in my writing. To do otherwise seems like a very ugly form of posturing, although I do touch lightly on other religions I am less familiar with. For example, I was lent The Tibetan Book of the Dead and The Life of Milarepa by a friend, and that text inspired some lyrics on the record, but I am careful not to overdo it with territory upon which I am generally understudied. I try to be as respectful as possible with what I pull inspiration from.
This isn’t to say I am a practicing Catholic or anything; it just left an impact on my life and introduced to me massive concepts like mortality and eternity at too young of an age. Any “spiritually inclined” lyrics that are in the record are more like desperate pleas for answers, questioning the unquestionable, and the terror that comes with trying to wrap my mind around such conceptually vast thoughts with the limitations of my pathetic human mind. I sincerely hope it never reads as preachy or as though I have any answers. I must earnestly stress that I know absolutely nothing. I’m just navigating these feelings through the music, but have ultimately found myself more lost than before.
Whether or not there’s a direct relationship to any parts of your own music, what other artists and music do you feel inspired by?
So many, too many to name! I love all sorts of stuff, although I am pretty ignorant about every art form. Alice Coltrane, Nico, and Carla Bozulich are all currently on heavy rotation. J.G. Ballard and William Burroughs are some of my favorite authors. I love the film work of Tsai Ming-Liang. I just rewatched The End of Evangelion and greatly admire Hideaki Anno. Max Ernst and Hans Bellmer are two recent favorite artists. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Photo courtesy of Tanner Lemoine.