In this post-everything digital age of endless archives and curation, is it possible still to lose things? Anthony is the patron saint of lost things, and it is to him that lo-fi folk musician Jack Hayter turns for his subscription series of monthly singles The Sisters of St. Anthony. To look at him in a perhaps more positive manner, St. Anthony really becomes representative of memory. He aids you in remembering where those lost things are, he is meant to help you recover things. And these wistful, often visceral, emotions suit Hayter well. His vocals are a bit broken and worn, and since his first release on Audio Antihero, the wonky, wonderful Sucky Tart EP, he has been pushing the boundaries of folk sounds to continue telling acoustic tales of the sublime mundanity of life. Whilst his first solo album, Practical Wireless released on Absolutely Kosher Records in 2002, was a study in fragility and gentle melody (including a stunning cover of The Only Ones’ “Another Girl Another Planet”), this latest subscription series (or time release capsule of an album) picks up further cues from the ragged edges of Sucky Tart and the fusion of folk and electronic elements found in his work with Dollboy. And of course, Hayter’s knack for storytelling emphasizes the most human of inclinations: remembering in order to make sense of the world and your place in it, recovering in order to recover.
The first song in the series is “The Shackleton,” which is both about a Cold War airplane named after the ill-fated (and let’s face it, ill-pated) explorer Ernest Shackleton, and about the loss of Hayter’s girlfriend from adolescence. Hayter writes of the connection between the distinctive drone of the aircraft and his memories:
…their sound, more than anything, reminds me of being 15…out in the woods with Sally at 4 a.m., with the spectre of Mutually Assured Destruction and the wrath of her parents.
It begins with sliding synth noises, but quickly moves into the softness of a nostalgic raconteur. Eventually the song melts into adolescent confessional as Hayter gives a beautiful, plaintive voice to the tragic yet funny machinations of teenagers’ inner dramas; his voice curls and keens like gales trapped in the husks of empty buildings over the lines, “Graham has dumped me/God, I’m so sad/Sure he’s alright for a laugh/Though he’s a bit of a twat.” The musical motif of this section returns as Sally makes a similar, yet poignantly different confession at fifty years old. Cold War tensions and paranoia add a layer of both “Heroes”-like romantic desperation and the bittersweet sadness of unfulfilled futures. (For more beautiful themes of haunting and the Cold War uncanny, track down Dollboy’s instrumental Ghost Stations.)
The second track, “Farewell Jezebel,” starts off with some spare acoustic guitar as Hayter introduces the titular character in a stance of illicit defiance. After the cheeky little line, “We’ve all been had/But no one ever had us quite like you,” the song kicks into a rambling, sunny tribute to a very human character. She may have vomited in her handbag, but she also lived beyond the pithy, “respectful” clichés of memorialization. Hayter’s brilliantly detailed, visually narrative lyrics demonstrate the limits of polite, socially accepted acts of remembrance; as he sings, “No one writes upon a gravestone anything of use.”
The final track of this first quarter of singles is “Sweet JD.” It begins with droplets of electronic sounds over sporadic glitchy percussion and other spasms of instrumentation. As Hayter intones “I’m always missing the beat,” the rhythms and sounds scatter about him like an overturned bag of marbles or a fistful of released balloons. Like an infinitely impossible cowlick, bleeps of synths spring up in unexpected places, yet they complement the soaring chorus of “Sweet John Donne loves you,” which references Donne’s poem of imminent loss, “Stay, O Sweet.” Halfway through the track, Hayter recites ghostly snippets of other Donne quotes about mortality and seizing life as the electronics spider over his voice, nearly choking it. By the time his voice comes back in for the final chorus, the music has risen into a jubilant hymn of love and affirmation of life in spite of all that threatens it.
These first three songs from the series are quite varied stylistically, but they all coax a meaningful presence out of absence, and build moving musical vignettes of retrospect and anticipated spectres. I look forward to the rest of the monthly installments. Is it still possible to lose things? Yes, but Jack Hayter reminds you that loss and forgetfulness can be valuable, too. Thoughts may escape you, but the dearth is necessary as some of the most important thoughts often come back to you as poetry.
Subscribe to the single series at the Audio Antihero Bandcamp page.