BCH Pick of the Week - Frozen Arms by Chris Tenz

In my rusty thoughts I can’t be here

You may expect an album by an artist from Calgary that’s released on an Edinburgh label (Mini50) to have a coldness to it. For the first suggestions of frost to be forming on its edges. I’m not sure if this is a concept album from Chris Tenz but the song titles provide a good indication of the atmosphere of these songs - “First Cold”, “Frozen Homes”, “Cold Sunshine”. Then there’s titles like ”Artificial Lights”, “Coffee Spills” and “Window Lights”..evocative phrases that conjure a certain fragility, a sparsity. Keeping the song titles to two words (track one “Birth” being the only single word title) is a conscious decision by Tenz, I believe, and maybe this is a concept album after all.

In this place there’s lots of nothing to be done

Introspection leads to restlessness. The void staring back at you and all of that. Sitting in a warm house all winter long can lead to cabin fever, no doubt. This album seems to sway between those internal ruminations and observations from a long walk in the cold, still night. Though there’s larger issues shifting beneath the ice.

I’ll pretend that I’ve been well these past seven years

Tenz doesn’t express this only through words though, he creates these contrasting feelings of warm melancholy and biting cold through the blending of gentle finger plucked folk and shimmering soundscapes. At times he adds samples too, as on the broken answering machine monologue on “Forgotten Friends”. In these moments I’m reminded of the great Mark Linkous, in the creak of the piano set against the buzz of an old fridge. And like Linkous, Tenz seems to be a troubled soul, a soul that aches with wonder.

There’s themes and ideas here that remind me of something Jeff Tweedy said of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Soemthing about that album being about the frustration of not being able to communicate, of the struggle to articulate one’s feelings and experiences through the static of a fuzzy consciousness. Or something. Anyway, there’s plenty of static on “Frozen Arms” (two words again, see?)-noise that melts away to reveal shards of pristine ambience. Voices emerge through the fog and clarity comes, then it goes again. When the words do come through it’s apparent that these are lyrics crafted with heart, and often quite wonderful:

So tear those paintings down there’s disconnected ways we really should communicate;
I read so far into your smiles I believe they’re all encrypted plans to capture me

Encryption, disconnection, communication. The warm and the cold. This is what I believe this album is about. Things we all experience. For such a personal album, that’s quite an achievement.