David Stith has always been pushing his creative limits. Having been raised in a musical family in Buffalo, New York, he grew up with sounds all around him, often slouched in the kitchen interpreting his family’s melodies into line drawings and poetry. Though a gifted musician from an early age, he remained silent for a long time, instead choosing to express himself through poetry and the visual arts—excelling in many modes of artistic expression. He’s wandered from Buffalo to Rochester to Brooklyn, where he became friends with Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond. In small technical ways (by providing a computer with ProTools, a space to record demos, and gallons of coffee to accompany wandering conversations about her songs), David began helping her record her album Bring Me The Workhorse. Shara was astounded to learn that he also possessed an innate talent for working in the studio.
By spending more and more time recording, David began to rekindle his passion for his first familial love: music. Something within him caught alight, and he began spending countless days stored away in his bedroom, sketching folk songs with epic electronic gestures, grappling with his inner demons, trying to capture his observations of the world with his music. His sustained period of silence, of gestation, of contemplation, was finally over. He continued cultivating his musical compositions privately—until one day Shara introduced David to his doppelganger, Sufjan Stevens, co-operator of Asthmatic Kitty Records. After hearing only two of his songs, Asthmatic Kitty coaxed David to record an album of his own for release.
Now with the release of Heavy Ghost, David is putting his inexplicable visions to song. A true artistic entrepreneur, David spent a year writing, arranging and recording, performing nearly all of the music on Heavy Ghost—even creating all of the album’s artwork—resulting in an intensely personal masterwork that exposes his own conflicted spirituality and his drive to find a place in which he belongs. In addition to coming from a musical family, David was also brought up in an intensely religious family, and much of his artistic struggle has been trying to reconcile his emerging sense of ethics with that of his church’s identity. Finding a spiritual host for himself—without repressing or discrediting any part of himself—is the central struggle that his music addresses.
Musically, Heavy Ghost is as dense as it is transparent, taking listeners through a tumultuous narrative of self-discovery with its rich and daring orchestration. In the opening track, “Isaac’s Song,” a torrent of piano slams, shouts, machine-gun snare, and ghostly harmonics evoke the biblical story of Abraham—when God called upon him to sacrifice his son Isaac on Mount Moria, testing him to see if he would be willing to make the highest sacrifice in order to appease the God he so loves and fears. In the context of Heavy Ghost, this reference introduces the album as a sort of sacrifice, as an offering. In “Pity Dance,” the lilting guitar of Violeta Parra, the over-saturated production of Tom Waits, the dark choirs of The Shangri-Las, and the speak song of Randy Newman all serve to support a sense of lyrical self-awareness that is alternately confounding and thrilling. No longer can the artist simply ignore or suppress the parts of himself “that he doesn’t like” in order to be accepted by his spiritual community; these parts must either be completely embraced or exhumed. But first these elements must be confronted. Heavy Ghost continues along the route of confrontation and purification, reaching a frenzied breaking point with “Spirit Parade,” in which David performs a sort of musical exorcism on himself. Full of visceral, percussive elements, otherworldly wails, and a humming motif that echoes an African-American spiritual, Spirit Parade gives thrilling nods to haunting mysticism. After this track, the tone of the album begins to gradually settle into a realm of peaceful resolution. In “Morning Glory Cloud,” David Stith begins to leave his previously tortured persona behind, embarking on a journey of self-acceptance and atonement.
Lyrically and conceptually, David Stith explores the ineffable. “Morning Glory Cloud” captures a mysterious and rare rolling cloud formation, connecting it to memories of playing hide and seek while growing up in the Rust Belt. In “Fire of Birds,” David connects seemingly disparate experiences: being awakened one morning by what sounds like the neighbors speaking with fire; a memory of being burned by fireworks as a child; following a friend through the rain in the woods in the middle of the night to fix a water collection system; the story of Isaac burning and somehow finding a new body. Throughout the album, the concepts of water and fire are continually contrasted and expounded upon. Fire as menacing and rejected romantic passion in “BMB” is transmuted into joyous and liberating fire in “Fire of Birds;” the foreboding, melancholic clouds of rain in “Pity Dance” become cleansing, empowering watery visages in Pigs—the track that sets up the jaunting sacrificial rite in “Spirit Parade.” Heavy Ghost communicates a startling range—from earnest yearning to heartbreak, shimmering hopefulness to the brink of existential despair. David Stith’s ethereal voice communicates the unfathomable—mysticism, the commingling of water and fire, waking dreams, spiritual torment—with such reckless abandon that is rarely seen in many albums, let alone a debut work.