NPR logo Songs We Love: Fletcher Tucker, 'I Became Smoke'

Songs We Love: Fletcher Tucker, 'I Became Smoke'

Fletcher Tucker's Cold Spring comes out June 30. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Courtesy of the artist

Fletcher Tucker's Cold Spring comes out June 30.

Courtesy of the artist

There are sections of Highway 1 where the heart can leap out of your throat and into the Pacific Ocean, the California coastline so steep, the water so far and so blue, the beauty savage and mysterious. Walk long enough from the winding asphalt, into the woods, and this mystery endures, but thick and sky high, surrounded and enclosed. Seven years ago Fletcher Tucker moved here, to Big Sur, to make music as Bird By Snow and run his label Gnome Life Records. As Tucker fell more deeply into this environment — an "inhabitation," he calls it — he found songs instead of writing them.

Recorded over four years, Cold Spring is Fletcher Tucker's first album under his own name. Old pump organs and synths, guitars, marimbas, saxophones and drums breathe the same ocean air as howling coyotes and chirping crickets, heard in the field recordings that feel as much part as Cold Spring as the mystic melodies themselves. It shares an environmental consciousness heard in records by Mount Eerie and Agalloch, where the woods and mountains of the West Coast not only become an instrument, but a way of being with dirt and trees and birds.

"I have heard snippets of the primordial language of stone, storm and soil," Tucker writes in an accompanying booklet. "And for the briefest moments I have sensed the true soul of the place, Big Sur's essential nature, her unborn mind. Slowly, some of these fragmented, half-knowings have expanded inside me, forming poems and songs."

In Cold Spring, Tucker sinks into the redwoods and roots out something ancient and always. The album's confirmation ritual is the brooding, gradually ecstatic "I Became Smoke." With lyrics inspired by Robinson Jeffers' poem "The Brown Forest," Tucker sings in a low rumble, "I trek this trail hunting for songs," with Molly Erin Sarlé of the much-missed Mountain Man providing harmonies that are simultaneously somber and determined. "But the mountain's song consumes me as I limp along." An organ pumps deeply, as martial drums spur the motion towards unseeable treetops, synths gliding overhead as the Earth dances slowly beneath their voices, curling like fog. Climaxing with "alto saxophone tessellations" performed by Rachel Shearer, "I Became Smoke" billows with grandeur, but understands its small footprint on the timeline of being.


Cold Spring comes out June 30 via Gnome Life.