Since the mid-’90s, musician and visual artist Nora Keyes has been offering up her work within the Los Angeles arts and music scenes. Through her time in bands like The Centimeters and Fancy Space People, she has developed and maintained a fanbase devoted to her experimental folk aspirations. Taking inspiration from artists like The Incredible String Band and Catherine Ribeiro, she fashioned her work, both in terms of its sound and emotional connection with its audience, without a single purpose; this was music meant to move and inspire, to force you to consider multiple avenues of thought and action.
With her band, the Rococo Jet, she is set to release her new record, “Mysterium Tremens,” on Sept. 21 via Godyssey Music. Within its cavernous psych-folk environments, the album paints a surrealist portrait of creativity and life in transition. Much like her visual art, it doesn’t conform to expected artistic parameters, nor does its approach its often darkened subject matter with any sense of overt explanation. You simply take what you need from her work and leave the rest for the next person. There’s no right or wrong interpretation, just the inexorable passing of time and the consequences of our actions.
“I use music as an instrument to open doors to other frames of consciousness,” Keyes explains. “When I wrote “Mysterium Tremens,” it was during a period of deep grief. The music became my call to the farther reaches of my spirit to lift me out of a very brokenhearted place.”
On her new single, “Saffron Saddled Sailing Sage,” she meticulously curates a feeling of otherworldly beauty, of honest emotion pouring forth from experience and the desire to be heard and understood. Her voice is ethereal and quickly loops itself around a delicate piano rhythm, evading resolution but providing anticipation of what might be around the next corner. This 9-minute fever dream of gorgeously constructed melodies and chorale vocalizations finds Keyes and the band reaching high than we’ve heard before, grasping for some celestial body that lies just out of sight.
Despite its expansive landscape, the song is possessed of a notable transience, infused with complex movements that belie its superficial simplicity. This is a song that finds power is repetition and a subtle resolve -- there are no quick answers here. Keyes is too clever for any sort of unearned understanding to be gleaned upon first listen. We’re soon aware of the sense of inherent loss and the somber atmosphere that the track offers, a testament to its ability to mesh hesitant hope with the finality of our own mortality. As the song comes to an end and the piano plays us out on the back of its fluid progressions, we see some light breaking through the fog, an illumination that recalls better days before we came to realize how much our hearts and our bodies could be hurt.