Before I begin to describe Lost and Found – the glowing new EP by New Paltz’s versatile guitarist and songwriter Mike Hollis – let’s talk about branding for a moment. Sometimes I think it is half the battle in this business, but only when it is done this well. Hollis’ Breakfast in Fur bandmate Kaitlin Van Pelt designed the Lost and Found cover. As she has done twice for her own band, her art gets so cozy with the essence and intent of the project that you’ll know the music’s character before the needle even hits the platter. You’ve been prepped, your expectations tweaked to receive this odd and lovely little record in the most sympathetic way.
Van Pelt’s portrait imagines Hollis as a stoned pastoral god or hermit of some kind, a woodland man/creature with Francis of Assisi’s gift for birds and Jesus’ way with a flowing beard. This blissed-out Mike-of-myth also appears to be subtly trussed, cocooned, swaddled by his own downward-and-inward-spiraling effusion of fluid hair and by the flora and fauna caught in its flow – a suggestion that speaks directly to the one-person-as-world, insular quality of this true solo release.
But the myth is only the half of it. For all its otherworldly evocations (KVP, you devil!), this image flatly states: “just Mike,” unmistakably “just Mike,” an almost-photorealistic transcription of the agreeable face that anybody who has spent more than a week in New Paltz in the last ten years knows and loves. And that paradox – “Myth Mike” and “Just Mike” – gets right at the mystery of Lost and Found, its cool blend of remote ethereality and homely, bucolic garage folk. Are you willing, the image and the music ask, to accept “just Mike” as a hippie conduit of energies and truths from the other side? Are you willing to receive the archetypal and atavistic magic in all your friends?
Not coincidentally, of all the music that Hollis has released in the last few years (a jazz quartet record, the jam-leaning indie rock of Blue Museum, a film score), Lost and Found is, by far, the one that shares most in the luminous naïveté and insular otherworldliness of Breakfast in Fur. Like Hollis’ early solo releases, Lost and Found takes on the organic freak-folk aesthetic of Devendra Banhart and others, built off a bed of delicate acoustic guitars and defiantly uncorrected vocal performances. But as in the music of Breakfast in Fur, this is a vision of “organic” in which synthesizers and audio manipulation – wheezy, buzzing, blooping, comic, abstract and disruptive – are quite at home: an unpredictable dream-folk, you might call it.
The lyrics waft in and out of clarity in an artful way, but the themes are lucid: birth, death and rebirth for the most part, taken on in broad and simple language that is fixed neither in the pedestrian present nor in any mythic, pastoral past, though it manages to evoke some of both. The music, too, plays by a fairly strict set of coherent rules: meditative, gently acoustic and sonorous, avoiding “groove,” sudden dynamics and the dialects of any particular genre, for the most part.
The aesthetic is clean and strict, but at the same time oddly permissive of interlopers and sonic visitations – the squealing fuzz guitars that lace through “Plug Me In,” for example, or the reedy bed of crickets and peepers that supports the paradoxically elegiac EP highlight “Your Wish,” or the palpable electronic sound objects provided by Daniel Morgenstern on two tracks.
Morgenstern is one of only three guest contributors on Lost and Found. Hollis’ Blue Museum bandmate Joseph Ruotolo (Tongue, Royal Psalms) drums on the EP opening “Oh October,” the record’s most propulsive and insistent track. The talented singer/songwriter Amy Regan – who died a year ago, at the age of 30 – sings on “Home.” Regan’s presence, and Hollis’ experience of the loss of a friend, seem to hover across the album’s many reflections on mortality and eternality. The tone on Lost and Found is wistful and wise, but ultimately optimistic: “Found” follows “Lost.” Via art or philosophy, it is the head-on grappling with loss and ephemerality – the basic terms of life here in the carbon world – that transforms “Just Us” into “Myth Us.”
Mike Hollis celebrates the release of Lost and Found at the Falcon Underground in Marlboro on Thursday, January 5 at 7 p.m. Dante Defelice opens. Per usual at the Falcon, there is no cover, but generous donation is encouraged. The Falcon is located at 1348 Route 9W in Marlboro. For more information, visit www.liveatthefalcon.com.