Jake & The Venom head into the darkness on their new EP A Tape Unraveled — showcasing today on Tinnitist.
The middle chapter in a musical trilogy that began with last year’s A Stone Unturned EP, the four-track A Tape Unraveled follows its protagonist and narrator on a descent into a dreamscape of delirium, depression, devastation and doom — all set against a richly layered, artfully textured musical backdrop that balances classic roots-rock, folk, country and gospel with cutting-edge ambient sonics and sophisticated art-rock experimentation.
“A Tape Unraveled is exactly what the second act of a story needs to be,” explains Jake Pilewski, the smoky-voiced Ohio singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer and filmmaker at the helm of Jake & The Venom. “It begins with a personal conflict of reality, then asks where we sit in a world caught up in what seems to be a never-ending battle of groupthink and mass hysteria. Naturally, this leads to a reflective piece about the value of time and its limitations, capped off with a dive into seasonal depression and its annual inevitability. What better way to set up Act 3 than establishing the internal and external conflicts of our protagonist, the narrator?”
It’s a story nearly as compelling and complex as that of its creator. Pilewski formed Jake & The Venom in 2016 as a collaborative recording project that would allow the Toldeo multi-talent to record an album built around songs that he had written over a 14-year period, with each track featuring a different musical guest — a unique approach that allows Pilewski to channel his rich lyricism and potent songcraft though a wider sonic and stylistic lens.
A Tape Unraveled opens with the Delirium Lullaby, where an insistently chugging guitar, a syncopated backbeat, sparse percussion and jangling minor-chord arpeggios create a tense backdrop for a nightmarish tale: “The sheets on my bed are freezing, and yet my skin is on fire,” Pilewski intones. “As if it’s pouring down rain, and I’m a bird on a broken wire.” Next comes The Rolling Tide, whose haunting piano melody leads into a stomping gospel blues powered by big, ringing chords, ghostly call-and-response vocals and predictions of an apocalyptic reckoning driven by unstoppable madness. Time surveys the approaching end with tender-hearted regret and nostalgia, accompanied by steel-stringed acoustic-guitar fingerpicking and decorated with a bittersweet piano melody. And finally, the elegantly swooning ballad Fallin’ finds our hero taking a leap of faith into the inevitable, seeking eventual rebirth and redemption — “Further, how we’ll go further, into the valley, with no end in sight, and I hope that I will rise again. This fall seems like a friend.”
It’s not hard to see why some listeners think A Tape Unraveled is a pandemic-inspired project. But Pilewski says it’s more than that. “The record isn’t as much about the pandemic itself, but rather an observational piece of the human experience from a personal reflection to a wider view of society during such a tragic, traumatic, and incomparable event such as the pandemic,” he says. “It’s in these moments that we peel back layers of the onion that we didn’t know were there to expose parts of our character that may have otherwise remained dormant.
“Delirium Lullaby toes the line of dream and reality, often confusing the two, similar to that of someone experiencing delirium. It’s finding oneself waking up to a world they never thought they’d ever see in reality, and therefore begin to question their own consciousness. Elements of dreamscape are sprinkled throughout almost every song in this three0part release with the use of ambient layers to further the intent to establish uncertainty. What is real? How much of the chaos and confusion is created by the stress of such an event versus what the absolute truths are?”
Pilewski’s thoughtful, deliberate approach naturally extends to his songwriting, which utilizes both his musical ear and his director’s eye. “I first tackle the concept for the song,” he explains. “What’s this specific song going to try to convey? From there, I start forming a few lines of lyrics with a potential melody and really start feeling out ways to move the melody and the instrumentation to emphasize not only the lyrical phrasing, but the progress of the story. The layers in each track come and go, just like that of the surroundings and setting of characters we see in a film. Scene to scene, frame by frame, there’s a fluid transition created by proper direction and staging. Being a filmmaker as well, I write songs in a visual sense, and try to portray what I see through the audio.”
The story will wrap up with the final chapter — titled A Bell Unrung — later this year, followed by a physical release of all three parts and a live performance to be filmed and streamed over the winter. Naturally, the prolific Pilewski is already planning his next project: Another Christmas EP to follow up last year’s Jake Pilewski: A Christmas Tradition, a short film due in the fall of 2022 and more.