No Fool Like An Old Fool is the sophomore LP from Austin via Alabama musician, Caroline Sallee, aka Caroline Says. Moving beyond the surf-folk foundations of her debut, on No Fool... Sallee loosens her earthly tether, allowing her songs to float to ever higher altitudes on clouds of loops, immaculate melodies, and hypnotic harmonies, as she sings about aging, the daily grind, and hometown stymie. Moving to Austin in 2013 gave her a new perspective on her hometown of Huntsville, Alabama, which informed the overall vibe of the album. “I think leaving my fairly small hometown and then going back to visit it inspired the feeling I went for on this album. I observed that so many people I knew were content doing basically nothing. Or that they were scared to try to do anything or leave town, like they felt stuck there.”
The first few notes of the Daniel Rossen-esque opener “First Song” dutifully establish the surreal and slightly tragic tone of longing maintained throughout the album. The curiously upturning melodies ride out on a rich ambient texture before “Sweet Home Alabama” cuts the fog with a crackling 60's soul loop that's charming and catchy enough to induce a cathartic laugh from the listener. The brightness fades with the frosty and propulsive “A Good Thief Steals Clean,” which features lyrics inspired by the 1971 film Panic in Needle Park, and the idea of being in love with a heroin addict. “I tend to write from the perspectives of characters in dark situations, even though my songs may sound bright,” Sallee notes of her alluring juxtaposition of sunny production and grim lyrics. She employs this dynamic again on “Rip Off,” a frenetically percussive song with lyrics inspired by an NPR story about a young Iraqi man who was killed in an ISIS bombing just before moving to NYC to become a professional dancer. Inspired by Terrence Malick's Badlands and Bruce Springsteen's “Nebraska,” the song “Black Hole” features multi-voice harmonies sung from the perspective of 50's spree killer Charles Starkweather.
Finding time to record while working three jobs was no easy task, and her living situation didn't make it any easier. Sallee explains “I lived in a disgusting mildewed basement apartment that was like living in a gross cave. My landlords were a crazy old couple that lived above me, and it was like living inside of a drum. I could hear their footsteps, and their dog’s footsteps, and a lot of the time it just sounded like they were throwing things on their floor. It was so hard to find a perfectly quiet time to record. I recorded all my loud stuff (amped guitar, drums) during the day, and had to do quieter stuff like vocals late at night.” The hurdles she navigated to record naturally led to ad hoc recording techniques, and endless sonic experimentation, often leading to her use of the computer as an instrument. She remarks “I did a lot of recording in a state of exhaustion from working so much. I was so worn down that these songs were able to just come through.” No Fool Like An Old Fool is a fine soundtrack for this kind of liminal state, honest in its weariness, glad to be done with the day, carrying itself into tomorrow with a bleary-eyed sense of wonder and hope for the future. A tireless worker, and a wellspring of creativity, whatever Caroline Says, we will be listening.
Psychedelic folk is starting to become sorely missed. The sub-genre has never not been a staple in the diets of most record collectors. It proves its timelessness with each passing year, defying the laws that chain most other styles to their respective eras. As everything else ages, psych-folk darts in and out of decades, covered in the residue of each, but not necessarily beholden to the tropes of any single one, appearing new and welcome each time. On I See You Among the Stars, Chicago sound-weaver Jessica Risker is nudging the category back into plain view, setting a proper place for it at the table in 2018 and beyond.
Comprised of eight aural vignettes, the album is a wood-grained, amber-hued world respectfully orbiting influences like Nick Drake, Sibylle Baier, and the softest moments of Broadcast. Paisley fabrics fade beneath an uncovered window, while dust and smoke billow gently through the sunbeams that never fully reach the dark half of the room. I See You Among the Stars achieves what the best music in the genre does: pictures with tangible depth, color, and detail painted with only a few well-chosen pigments.
The title track “I See You Among The Stars” trots the album in with bouncing acoustic guitar, lulling the listener into perceived safety before curious chord changes and synthetic chimes remind us we’re entering the land of the slightly askew. This tell-tale lysergic, ominous wonder deepens as the album progresses into tracks like “Anyway When I Look In Your Eyes”, a song that parallels the somber honesty and intelligent songcraft of Elliott Smith who borrowed equally from Risker’s beloved pool of influences. “Zero Summer Mind” gleams off the cobwebs like moonlight, plodding down a darkened hallway with mellowed affliction. Like so many moments on I See You Among the Stars there is a perfect thread of quiet despair that renders the playfulness of its surroundings subversive and slightly wicked, making the whole affair psychedelic in the actual sense of the word. Sure, the colors may be brighter, but the shadows are also longer and darker.
It’s apt that Risker, a musician and sound designer since her teens, embodies the dichotomous foundation that makes acid-folk so timelessly intriguing. “I tend to approach music from two different angles” she says of her process. “The first is just songwriting — melody, chord changes, lyrics — those basic elements. The second angle is more an exploration of sounds, with the idea that there are no constraints. It’s very much myself playing with recording. The idea is to create one big flow.” Tellingly, Risker released a mod tapestry of electric noise and rhythm titled Big Forever in 2016 before following her more delicate inclinations into what would become I See You... No matter where her music ventures, curiosity and experimentalism are clearly with her at all times.
It is also interesting to note that Jessica Risker is a former social worker and currently practices as a licensed counselor. If the throughline of all psychedelic music is that it casts an inward eye on the subconscious-- and the symbols and emotions therein-- then certainly a mental health care professional is equipped to convey what can be glimpsed in that space.
As such, I See You Among the Stars is an exemplar of spaced out psych-folk that seeks to convey the intimacy and introspection of a woman going about her simple matters at home, while creating an atmosphere to provide melancholy accompaniment to these very tasks. But the final result is something much more: a polyhedral, exploratory, and mystifying peer into a detailed pop-up storybook that reflects the mind and heart of its luminous creator.