World Of Echo / UK / 2021
Cheap Things is the latest record by New Haven guitarist and C/Site label-owner, Stefan Christensen. It's a challenge to list exactly where Cheap Things numbers in Christensen's extensive catalogue, which at over a decade long has seen him issue countless records under his own name and across both his own imprint and a host of international labels, as well as performing in underground noise trio Center and in the heavenly psych act, Headroom. Crucially and somewhat impressively, his work has remained as singular as it has been productive, cultivating a distinct style of playing that is unmistakably his own even when in collaboration with others.
In many regards, Cheap Things represents an apex of the universe Christensen has fostered over the last decade, both collaborative and highly personal. Indeed, many of the key names from the C/Site and adjacent world contribute to the record in some capacity - David Shapiro (Alexander/Center/Headroom), Kyrssi Battalene (Mountain Movers/Headroom), who takes a lead and has repurposed the final track for Headroom, Ian McColm (Heart Of The Ghost) and Rick Omonte (Mountain Movers/Headroom) sit in on drums and bass, respectively, while John Miller (formally of Mountain Movers) recorded a couple of the songs at his home studio. Cheap Things is a record labeled with Christensen's name, but it's certainly also one born of community and like-minded creative enquiry, longtime characteristics in his increasingly dense catalogue.
Though the work that comprises this catalogue has always remained engaging, there comes a sense of event with Cheap Things not necessarily present in some of the more off-the-cuff experimental cassette releases issued in both this and past years. This may be in part attributable to the time invested in recording these five songs: starting in mid 2018 and finishing throughout the various periods of lockdown in 2020, this is the longest amount of time Christensen has spent working on a record. Recording itself is an integral aspect of the way in which Christensen creates his sound, relying on the freedom of home studios, the analog limitations of four and eight tracks, and the unique results gained from tape loop manipulations. Such processes add an element of both warmth and spontaneity to the work, though one crucial difference is that much of Christensen's other work is written with, what he calls 'little pre-planning', whereas Cheap Things is defined by a much more precise and pre-formulated vision. The result does feel strangely and more obviously definitive.
There's a life to these songs beyond their recording, the roots in fact stemming all the way back to Christensen's first solo release in 2015, the record on which the title track first appeared, albeit in rudimentary form. Written in response to the death of a friend from an overdose, Christensen was motivated to re-record the song when hearing that at the start of lockdown another friend from the same circle had died in similar circumstances. Over the years the song has grown in length and intensity, and reaches its ultimate form here, an acoustic drone that pulses with a near-spiritual reverie. It's fitting testament to the people it commemorates, and sets the tone for the remainder of Cheap Things, which through its unique melding of folk, noise, experimental and avant blues traditions appears to provide a cathartic release from the various experiences of grief, illness and stress. Much like the music of Tomokawa Kazuki, Mikami Kan and Neil Young, who have informed the album in various ways, the intent here seems to be to communicate big ideas with modest means. Cheap Things, then, is unusually titled, if not expressing the infinite and the eternal, at least suggesting that in striving for the bigger ideas we might find truth, or perhaps just some piece there of.