The Late Cord

This is the new church music.

Though not religious - at least not in any conventional sense – THE LATE CORD’s debut EP, Lights From The Wheelhouse, is certainly prayerful, a deep, contemplative blend of the acoustic and electronic, the traditional and experimental, the lyrical and abstract. Here, a slow, simmering organ shares the space with a jack-in-the-box thumb piano, crackly synth loops and incantatory choruses. There, a tentative guitar and droning organ frame the mood for a world-weary voice while electronic droplets patter like moisture in an abandoned building.

The dual nature and strange coherence of THE LATE CORD aren’t surprising, considering its members, John-Mark Lapham and Micah P Hinson, are each from completely different musical backgrounds despite sharing the same birthplace - the small, arid West Texas town of Abilene.

Lapham has recently broken into the British music scene as the sounds-and-samples whiz in Manchester’s The Earlies, an experimental, acoustic-electronic orchestral pop juggernaut of room-shaking choruses and acid-trip vamps. Favouring the UK to his American Bible Belt home - and not because of the football - Lapham would travel to England as often as he could once he got out of high school, staying there for as long as his money lasted, then moving back in with his parents in Texas.

Meanwhile, Hinson, the youngest son of a devoutly Christian household, found his way into an errant lifestyle of addiction, bankruptcy, homelessness, trouble with the law over prescription forgery and, eventually, intense songwriting. Now, still young at just 24, he is making a name for himself as a Leonard Cohen-esque singer-songwriter. He’s toured the US and Europe and earned great reviews for his 2005 release, Micah P Hinson And The Gospel Of Progress. His gritty, emotionally bare folk sound is a marked contrast to The Earlies’ crashing, playful, mysterious rock, but, if anything, Lights From The Wheelhouse proves that inspiration always trumps differences.

Though John-Mark and Micah grew up within ten miles of each other, they didn’t meet until 1999. They were introduced by a mutual friend named Brandon Carr, who had helped Hinson record his first album, The Baby And The Satellite, and who would go on to become lead singer of The Earlies. Carr and Lapham had been renting several tiny, secluded rooms in the basement of a mostly empty 1960s era office building in Abilene’s “historic” downtown. This secret recording studio was a primitive underground incubator, stocked with a computer, some microphones and Lapham’s hoard of bizarre, garage-sale electronic gizmos. The smell of Mexican food wafted down from the courtyard burrito joint in the afternoon, and at night, a small circle of musicians laid down tracks on a diverse array of projects.
One of these undertakings, a whimsical collaboration between Lapham and Hinson, became the dark, somnolent seed for THE LATE CORD.

“I gave [Micah] a three-minute track of a simple, droning bass loop, which he miraculously took away and devised a full set of lyrics for,” Lapham remembers. “This hit me hard - it was so close to the same mood and feel of the sort of emotional, sedating sounds I grew up with from labels like 4AD.”

The two continued recording together; producing fragmentary tracks either from sudden inspiration or from song ideas Hinson had been working on. Lapham took these bits and pieces with him to England and worked on them between Earlies sessions. Lapham helped his friend score a deal at Sketchbook around the time The Earlies were taking off, but he never gave up work on THE LATE CORD, and when the opportunity came for The Earlies to do a remix of a Rachel Goswell song, Lapham leapt at the chance to bring 4AD’s attention to his and Hinson’s side project.

Lights From The Wheelhouse is the initial result, and a full-length will follow in the yet-to-be-determined future. Hinson and Lapham go all-out multi-instrumental on the record, with John-Mark holding down organs, synthesizers, bells, tape recordings, space echo, loops and programming; and Micah handling vocals, guitars, banjo, mandolin, upright piano, Casio keyboards, a Salvation Army organ, thumb piano, blow tuner, synthesizer, harmonica, toy accordion, trap set and samples.

Believe it or not, the finished sound is surprisingly simple, and almost devotional in character - each song begins with a latent urgency that reveals itself gradually through repetition and the adding-on of parts. Hinson’s voice becomes the record’s protagonist, an intoxicating, gravely baritone steeped in resignation and longing, sometimes so weighed down it manifests itself in just a chilling moan, a cold wind carrying in the distant sounds of the duo’s production.

THE LATE CORD received additional help from cellist Semay Wu (on the haunting “Chains / Strings”) and harmonica player Henry DeMassa (on the even more haunting “Hung On The Cemetery Gates”), both of whom played on Hinson’s Gospel of Progress. Guest vocals on the record are provided by John-Mark’s father, Robert H. Lapham, who, in the 1950s in Lubbock, Texas, played in Buddy Holly’s first backing band, the Picks. The elder Lapham lends ominous, distinctly un-“Peggy Sue”-like chants to the EP’s staggering centerpiece, “My Most Meaningful Relationships Are With Dead People”.

With these two young musicians’ individual careers taking off so rapidly, it’s a miracle that Lights From The Wheelhouse even happened. And it’s a good thing it did happen, because this short recording holds enough weight and beauty to last for the rest of the year.
  1. MAD-2601
    The Late Cord
    Lights From The Wheelhouse

    Starting at $4.00