Review: flatsound’s “hummingbird” EP Offers the Barest Glimpse of Mitch Welling

flasound © 2016
flasound © 2016
flatsound’s ‘hummingbird EP’ offers us the possibility of visiting Mitch Welling’s home at Hummingbird Hill, or a version of it, from the comfort of our own imagination.

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What is it about Mitch Welling, also known as flatsound, that draws us in so—that we are anxious to get inside his head yet again, if only to have a look around and emerge having understood too little?

hummingbird - flatsound
hummingbird – flatsound

Here is a goodbye, a farewell ode to Mitch’s home at Hummingbird Hill—raising in us the question of re-rendering a lived space in music or perhaps, the raw potential of music to act as memory. Throughout the EP, there’s a sense of leaving things behind—not just tangible entities like walls or corridors or even furniture, but the more important things perhaps; memories and the people that have created them, those exact points in time that will never come back for Mitch, that can now only be looked back upon.

The hummingbird EP, released independently on the 7th of January 2018, acts then as a time-capsule, a means of accessing a home that is no longer there, both for Mitch and his listeners. A place is never just a ‘place’ but the sum of its parts equally; all the people that have passed through it, all the feelings tied to it, all the moments that have unfolded there—everything has history and it seems that Mitch Welling presents us with a chance to draw up some of this history from his EP, totaling seven songs, all of which are recorded in his house on Hummingbird Hill before he moved away.

Listen: hummingbird – flatsound

hummingbird,” the first track, kicks in with a soft static and the reverb of a guitar string, layered with inching electronic sound and echo as the seconds pass. There is a kind of monotony, broken in spurts by thoughtful, almost hesitant guitar chords. From a feeling of stability, there comes the very hint of change, in pitch and volume, in the undertone of static;  a kind of movement as if someone or something is going somewhere, almost mechanical and repetitive in nature. There is an abrupt shutting sound, leaving the track almost incomplete with garbled static and shuffling.

even the stars can be hollow” begins with a smooth transition, and the guitar returns with aching familiarity. This is a flatsound we know all too well; mournful, sombre and infinitely reflective. Mitch’s sleepy vocals muse over lyrics like “travelled far away, where the neighbours talk, and i’ll go away, to an adjacent park.” It’s almost as if it’s just him and us, a shared conversation between close friends, as if in a small room both unsettled and secure. The backing vocals and layering add another element, lending the track complexity and depth. The last line of the song is “like a beam of light” (a strangely nostalgic lyric)—guitar chords ending on a spiral sound, clicking like a record taken off the player.

action scene” has a pace that is slower than the previous track, akin to a dismal kind of dance song. Mitch’s voice drives us through his mind, accompanied by a slinking, almost defeated beat that asks for movement, throwing up an identifiable tune that defines this song, full of smothering sounds that lift and leave you. Action Scene offers some of the most poignant lyrics from the EP:

you said you wanted everything,
you saw in the movies,
you saw in the TV screen,
but i can’t get out of bed—
so tell me why life is so misleading,
well i feel like i’m bleeding through a hole in my head.

The titular statement, “but you wanted everything, but the second i start to leave, it all feels like an action scene” not only belies the violence of the actual lyric, but brings the central, almost haunting tune back again : a xylophonic flute, electronic sound with a beat that has a sad sway to it. It finishes on an audio recording of a conversation between Mitch and a young girl saying “i wanna make a robot,” a seemingly random but deeply warm insertion that we’ve come to identify with flatsound, an expert in juxtapositions of daily recordings into musical composition.

Listen: “action scene” – flatsound

when we met” starts right from where “action scene” left off, the recording of the ‘robot conversation’. The first lyric of the song is “i’m sorry,” something to note because it dictates the mood of the track. There are small, soft chords that are matched with equally soft guitar plucking (not actual strumming, as if such a constant stream of sound might disturb the song itself). This is a quieter song, with quieter thought, almost whispered to us in tiredness as if it were the voice of sleep itself, an echo from the bedroom in the early hours of morning.

Recounting and retrospective in nature, “as if i could choose to be anyone” points to the fallacy in the idea of escaping oneself. The following “aa-ta-daa” is strangely beautiful in its nonchalance. “I’m sorry if I acted brave,” is another striking lyric, an odd apology to make. Enter skittering sound, an electronic hum shifting into more tangible, more obvious robotic sound. The track then becomes a curious amalgam of more ‘natural’ music and the blatantly ‘mechanical’ layers. Drifting into a hushed, memorable aa-ta-da, soft wispy static closes this meditative piece in a cut of sound.

oatberry” opens and ends like a transition track. Heavy on the repetition of chords, it is shaped by a mature xylophone and a shuffling beat. Layers are added as the seconds go, twisting the song from being one kind of sound to another. Merging the track with the disjointed speech of a young child, then someone’s laugh appearing in the background- there is a strange rush of things, conjuring many images in one’s head, sharp fuzziness to all of it as if one were looking back and nothing emerged clearly but instead, appeared in jagged pieces, in bits and pieces, without shape and clarity. To make these abstractions so tangible in a piece of music is a testament to both Mitch’s talent and understanding of the listening process. Recordings (of conversations, persons, objects etc) are an element that he’s always relied on and used so well, so distinctively that it almost becomes a definitive feature of his music.

With “wash away,” Mitch is back to his guitar, backgrounded by a low din that resembles water rushing down a surface. Mitch’s question “do you fall apart?” hangs in the air momentarily, suspended. The heavy mood crackles with static, set against higher-pitched, almost lullaby-like chords, as if flowers are both wilting and blooming at the same time, a chorus of shuddering clap-beats. “Will you say everything is fine, for the rest of your life?” is another difficult question he sings to us, suggesting a struggle that we all are familiar with- our days spent grappling with changes of all kind, aggravated almost intensely by the sheer uncertainty of living, being and loving. How long do we keep ourselves together? How long can we? Mitch is not as hopeless as he is insightful, revealing more about us than we’d like to admit.

Well-penned and nearly healing in nature, Mitch restores a sense of stability, singing:

and you wash away the pain,
you wash away the flakes of skin,
you wash away the pain of everything and
you are, but you are the most important part
The most important part.

you said remembering would feel too much like moving back home” is laden with grief. The guitar is different from previous tracks, eerily similar to some of Daughter’s tracks, and once more, Mitch gives us beautiful lyrical content to muse over:

a house, a home, a window,
you were here
before the floorboards broke,
in on themselves,
like black holes
promises you keep,
just for people that you want

The track carries the burden of history and there is coming together of leaving, a weight of sorts. Indicating that we are tied to the spaces we have made memories in, Mitch details the severance of a relationship (“cause you can’t read any of our old conversations“) and its aftermath wherein he feels as though “we still talk.” There is the recurring static undertone curving in on itself, angling sounds into a faded finish, the lower chords vanishing into dead quiet.

— —

To remember something, to commit to it in some way is a painful process and the tracks all tie themselves together in a palpable finality. Mitch’s EP turns into both salve and wound, despair and healing, recollection and reconstruction—a readied mix of exactness and obscurity, undercut by the power of his poetic writing and deft use of recorded material. What was Hummingbird Hill? Who was Mitch when he lived there? What has he left behind?

The Hummingbird EP offers us the (frustrating) possibility of visiting Mitch’s home or at least a version of it, from the comfort of our own imagination, his songs helping us drift in and out of possible rooms, the unfolding of a very fragmented and fleeting understanding—all of which, is ultimately, beautiful, dreamy conjecture. It is in this space of ambiguity and greyness that we meet Mitch Welling once more, at his most vulnerable and open, giving us just the barest glimpse of him and only that.

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:: stream/purchase Hummingbird here ::

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hummingbird - flatsound

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