The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light (2020)


The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light is Tom Caufield’s most experimental album to date. Avoiding dependable routes and neat resolutions, this broad collection covers much ground, exploring complexity, longing, uncertainty and the unknown. While Tom’s gift for melody remains, the compositions hum this time like threads through a darker landscape of angular textures, modal drones, destroyed ballads and space-blues. Sometimes distanced, other times sentimental, The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light runs wild across the various spectrums Tom’s explored in previous releases. Texture shifts, strange finger-scrapes and small details abound. Headphones suggested.

Tom says, “What these pieces have in common is that I let go of the compositional reigns more than I usually do. These pieces are more intuitive and willing to trust in repetition, which allows chance things to happen. They tend to search and wander instead of adhering to strong melody and song structure, letting repetition do its work of mesmerization and transportation. A number of them are blues-based, a few are one-chord modal based semi-improvisations, two are lo-fi synth and nylon Kraftwerk-style retro-electronica, one is classical, one a kind of Indian raga-styled piece, and a few even lose the rhythm, or include a few out-of-tune or unmixed notes. I think all of these things contribute to the album’s sense of mystery. I think it’s the album of mine that most rewards repeated listens. “

In addition to the looser songwriting approach, Caufield allows stylistic variations he’s used in cohesive, album-length doses to co-mingle. A number of pieces mix nylon string with Moog synthesizer, one employs mellotron flutes and cellos with direct-line steel-string guitar, a couple stack a chamber of nylon string guitar atop each other, a couple are solo pieces, a couple are duos, and one, the title track, has no guitar at all.

“This ethereal, churchy, ethno-operatic piece is the outlier in my canon,” says Tom. “It was done in collaboration with a friend of mine, the late Frank Serafine. I wrote a Philip-Glass-meets-Methodist-hymn choral arrangement, and we recorded the voices in Oakland, where a friend of his (also the soprano soloist heard on the piece) was the director of a choral group. We had them sing on top of a jam session that had happened one night months earlier, and then mixed it at the film sound stage where I worked with Frank. I’ve always loved it, and feel it makes a surprising, otherworldly closer to this set. I know it’s important to maintain the integrity of my established sound, but a carefully placed surprise change-up can be expressive and transforming to the listener.”

Also included are two languid ballads, “It Was Always You,” and “Playa del Rey.” “These are similar to things I’ve done before,” says Tom. “But what’s different here is that they’re presented in rougher, less polished form, and allowed to go on longer, to kind of languish, to wallow, to wander, to linger. On previous albums, I probably would have redone them with more polish, or shortened them for conciseness. But leaving them rough, long and a bit ripe gave them a kind of extremeness that makes them gel with the other pieces. They share a bit of an ‘outlier,’  ‘outsider’ kind of feeling. They provide a nice contrast. With their overt sentimentality and flirtation with nostalgia, they widen the scope of the album. I  especially love the lo-fi recording of the second piece ’Playa del Rey.’ It adds a humility that conveys the vulnerability the piece is meant to express.”

The album achieves a strange cohesion due to the experimental nature of the textures and compositions. Tom’s distinctive melodic sense and touch on the nylon string guitar are present, as are the tying-together qualities that the one-chord riff pieces and retro-lo-fi-electronica pieces, interspersed across the album, share. “In a sense, those six pieces are exploring the exact same thing, textural, slow-tempo, modified blues-based repetition, minimalist, minor shifts in dynamics and texture. But they all approach it at a slightly different angle, which achieves one of my favorite things – complete sameness and complete difference, all at once. Along with the paired ballads, these callbacks, companions, echoes of each other anchor the album and afford the room for the excursions into other territory.”

“I think what I enjoyed most about creating this album was putting rational thinking on the back burner and letting it find itself. The pieces came together accidentally, and I didn’t give it much analytical thought, but just went on instinct. What I learned is that the interestingness of the spaces in between the notes, the odd surprises and shifts of mood that happen in the transition between the pieces, and the unique quality of the textures are as important as the compositions in terms of the invitation an album makes for the listener to find their way into the music. If you’re mindful of these elements, you’ll create a richer experience, one that honors the true complexity and multi-self character of the human experience. To make that space interesting and complex enhances the interesting and complex parts of the listener.”

The record’s evocative title is borrowed from a book of the same name, written by anthropologist/philosopher/cultural studies thinker William Irwin Thompson. It’s a book near the top of Caufield’s all time top 10 favorite books list. “The book examines the recurrence  in mythology throughout history of illustrations of men’s responses to female sexual desire. In the garden of Eden, and in mythology before and after, there are depictions, parables, dramas and allegories of tribal men, or early community men responding to this in neurotic, and often catastrophic ways. The theory is that, in the earliest hunter-gatherer groups, order and hierarchy were male dominant, and very important. But women’s sexuality was not something that could be controlled, and it’s existence and subsequent actions often caused deep feelings of jealousy in the men, brought up issues of dominance and ownership, caused factions to form, fracturing of alliances, territorial disputes, repression of women, of sexuality – in essence was the root cause of many of the societal ills that plague us through today. The phrase ”The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light,” could be clarified by translating it to say: ‘Here is what happened to us, socially, as a species, a kind of ‘fall’ from grace, and this cultural experience we’re having, over epochs, is the occurences in time required to restore our integrity and return us back to the garden, i.e. a state of grace free from the shackles we’ve built in order to protect ourselves (read: men), from insecurity, repressions, dominance, territoriality, divisiveness. That’s why my wife Rebecca appears on the cover with me. Much of what has defined the way our society has developed has had to do with the sexual politics between men and women.”

Tom Caufield’s “The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light” will stand as a unique, high-water mark of creativity, evocation and transcendence in his growing canon.