Album Review: Nonconnah – Songs For And About Ghosts

[Ernest Jenning Record Co.; 2021]

Zachary and Denny Wilkerson Corsa have been making music together for a while now, previously recording as Lost Trail for a time before moving from North Carolina to Tennessee in 2016, where they formed Nonconnah. As with their previous project, they continue creating experimental lo-fi music that pushes boundaries and defies easy categorization. Built from a large cache of effects pedals and treated guitars, loops and samples, a host of unorthodox instruments, and unconventional recording techniques, the music is ambitious and their albums often feel like one continuous movement exploring what feels like an endless amount of possibilities.

This is music made for intimate spaces, where you have the time and patience to devote to peeling back its layers and losing yourself inside of them. Their first fully realized effort – 2019’s Dead Roses, Digged Up Zombies, Broken Pieces of Diamonds, Live Cats – was a sprawling double album of dark and melancholic pieces driven by an almost obsessive desire for perfection in every detail. Sometimes that ambition came at the expense of a more cohesive collection, but their third album, Songs For and About Ghosts, feels like a massive leap that rivals Dead Roses in terms of ambition and focus.

At 50-minutes long, the four lengthy suites (and four smaller ones within each of them) carve out a world full of beauty, ripe with a sense of wonder but with a lingering despair. Nonconnah began working on the album just before the pandemic, which pushed back its release and likely gave them added time to further shape and refine ideas. The result is a truly stunning and rewarding experience that amounts to some of their best work yet.

 “Changed in Autumn’s Feral Depths” builds an ethereal drone from scraping static and the sound of humming organs with a distant choir of wordless voices hovering overhead. A heavily processed guitar comes piercing through, providing a sustained tone so mournful that you feel it in your chest, before the music gives way to a pair of conspiracy theorist rants about Electromagnetic Pulse Weapon and chemtrails. What’s particularly startling about theses statements is the conviction with which they are being made and how much they reflect the growing paranoia and disconnect from reality consuming modern society. The effect is jarring and never truly dissipates.

Instead, the uneasiness continues lingering even after a melancholic string section, provided by Owen Pallett, steers the music back on its original course. It carries over into “At The End Of Everything, At The Edge Of Nothing”, which starts off slowly with the sound of an acoustic guitar being strummed through a wall of hissing static that gives the impression you’re listening to a disintegrating tape, as a repetitive loop resembling an alarm goes off in the distance. A surge of synthesizers create a whirlwind-like effect that pushes both the tension and a sense of excitement to an almost fever pitch, before a beating heart and a detuned piano offer a momentary comedown until a recording of a woman making a grim anti-war statement brings it to a haunting conclusion.

Optimism is present, but the music never seems to fully embrace it without some sense of lingering dread. The emotional turmoil from which these songs are built reflects the same turmoil we find ourselves facing in what feels like an increasingly chaotic world or when endless scrolling through social media leaves us feeling outraged, broken, or overwhelmed. It’s a compelling if not devastating listen, one that is also strangely cathartic. Even in its darkest moments, Songs For and About Ghosts offers some form of solace from the harshness of the outside world.