Sea Level

by Distant Reader

supported by
Adam Pearson
Adam Pearson thumbnail
Adam Pearson Album art reminds me of Scott Walker - the intensity and singular vision of this album is in line with Scott Walker. If this is the end of the world, I'm ready to be ripped apart by it, over and over again. Favorite track: Marie.
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Face up to know sky signs passing slow. Scan around: outbreak of faces down. Hours fold, flow past, rub raw rotting oaks, sunrise, misread smoke. One wish to wait: nothing needs to be late. Household sinks to earth, drowned in gold. No closing: rusted latch, broken spring. Half right: lush lives touch light. Half wrong: turn back, scale the night. One wish to wait: nothing needs to be late.
See youself as you walk down. Seaweed gliding past the coast. Wring the blood out from your phone. Name your home and pull it close. Move your house above the flood. Climb the ladder to your door. Divine some future in the dry where ash and rain don’t coat our floors. I will not see my neighborhood. You’ll do what can’t be done. No high patience to protect. Reach out past the empty one. Hills will seep and gnash their teeth. The golden cave will wash away. Jewels will burn under our feet. The arch of glass will crack today. Watch yourself letting go. Any time: You’ll never know. I will not see my neighborhood. You’re down the Colorado, getting lost at every turn to meet the place you’re letting go. I will not see your neighborhood mesmerized by dams, shifting forward up the street until we cross into the sand. And the rivers will rush, needing more than they know, just the same. And the rivers will rush, needing more than they know, just the same. And the rivers will rush, needing more.
Borax 06:02
One-hundred eleven: the devil is here. I walk into the water, watch the sun overpower. On an island of mercy in a sea of heat. The thinker he worshipped lost his mind in this desert, bounced string melodies off the rocks in the evening. But his handprints don’t show. They don’t wave to me now. Because I could not live like a hard bitten man dying down in a sinkhole, staring at shiny metal, I will watch the team go up the vanishing road. And they let the screen guide them: the wrong kind of attention. The van falls off a cliff, takes the future with it. Could’ve golfed in the shade, as the lawns wilt away. They shout until they’re blue in the face. They dive into the deep of the basin. I see them return. It’s not like a movie. The coyotes don’t see me. I try not to go out after nine in the morning. Birds drop out of the sky. I don’t want to be left behind. Then life springs up from under my feet. I know it’s trying to tell me something. I kneel in the sand and it whispers to me. It says I belong. It says I belong.
To have the life of the face of a cliff, to open out, feel the wind layered in, and not to hold movements that fracture us, and know you fold every shape into your house. We’re settling, pressuring underground. So let it turn like it wants to. Silt out doubt. To lift tides, roots, moss, shade, fire, sun. And not to shout, “Hurry! I have to run.”
Marie 08:56
Won’t you help me, my sister Marie? Hope you don’t hold what you see against me. Last six months I’ve been out of control. Things don’t make sense the way that we know. Give me a hand I’d be proud to hold. Took a ride around town last week just to see the blades of grass shining, but all the lawns that I passed had gone dry. I felt the tears return to my eyes. I let the wind come return me to life. Mercenaries camp out at my door, ask me why I don’t want any more, but I could ask that of anyone else. They know the specter at the edge of their health, those creatures swimming way down in the well. Heard that dad won’t talk to you either. He claims the new year hasn’t started yet here. Well he can think what he wants: disregard his words, those notions he caught, disregard all those people he lost. Hold me close, I won’t forget. Please remember you can’t lose my respect. Even though you must think so little of me, hope you can stand me, my sister Marie. Hope you still love me, my sister Marie. I’m still fascinated by fireflies. They imitate a thing that’s barely alive. Birds and trees and the shouting of kids, try to take it all into myself. This room’s an ocean, you’re the continental shelf. So much distance between you and me. Try to swim all the way across the sea. If I feel tired and cold, let that be. I’m so glad you won’t let me leave. Can I sing to you, my sister Marie?
Burst out through the side door, choking on the air, nose under my t-shirt. Thought to hide beneath the Blue Wave until it passed. It spiraled, caught, and swung. I left the water there. My friend’s house got it first. He set out for the ocean, and now I have to follow to hear his voice again. One hundred fists on door frames. I had ten endless minutes. I pushed the rearview sideways. I let it go so fast. Hope it holds you as the waves come crashing. Missed opportunity. Care a different way tomorrow. Step back twice, reorganize, help it grow, and have it show us what we owe. A empty place is not a thing. Walk upstairs. A thousand years, a covering. To shape it like it wants us to, to leave it right, to see it reach another time. Another season says it so it captures us. Hope it holds you so you know.


"[Sea Level] looks to take an already ambitious blueprint and expand upon it, exploring histories, geographies, and ecologies in the hope of understanding the present and preparing for a (hopefully better) future." (Various Small Flames)


I recorded and mixed this in Oakland and Berkeley, Ohlone land, between January 2018 and June 2019. Andrew Weathers, brilliant and generous as always, mastered it. It’s meant to be played loud.

This is a California album, with occasional references to other spots in the American West. I wanted the songs to evoke this place in a disorienting way, so the typical musical signposts of California are either absent or shredded into some other matter. “Borax” is the only song here that’s directly autobiographical, and the other songs are either fictional or wholly adrift from narrative. There are character studies, arguments, dubious prophecies, nightmares, daydreams, and, in the last song, a secular prayer. The throughline is the American West as we can see it on many levels of scale, from individuals seeking solace up to our ecologies and the rickety systems we’ve welded onto them.

The frequently invoked notion that California is a place to escape from history and start anew is illusory and damaging. People have been living and tending nature here for thousands of years. All things do change, and natural wildfire cycles make that especially clear in this part of the world. But when we develop deeper connections to the places where we live, and when we open conversations with their many histories, we can ground ourselves and begin to craft a future that offers us something better than senseless turbulence—maybe even wonder. This is a dire album and it reflects a dire present, but my wish is that, over its length, it evolves from mourning to compassionate hope, offering at least a little encouragement that we might play small parts in a healthy future stretching on and on.

Thank you.

–August 2019


released August 16, 2019

Cover photo taken September 12, 2014, at Badwater Basin, Death Valley.




Distant Reader Berkeley, California

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