Review: Lake Mary – Slow Grass
National Music Reviews
Whited Sepulchre Records
Lake Mary = Ben Howard – vocals + Volcano Choir’s Unmap
When dealing with grief, we all find ways to cope—creating a life raft from the tools we possess to keep us from sinking beneath the waves of our unexpected new life. For me, it was throwing myself into work. For others I know, it’s been painting or cooking. For Missouri-based artist Chaz Prymek of Lake Mary, music serves as the necessary outlet to process his loss. Slow Grass is this life raft, tenderly ferrying the artist and the listener from uncomfortable pain toward tender gratitude.
Unlike his previous work, which features an impressive use of pedal steel, Lake Mary uses more classical acoustic guitar, saxophone, clarinet, violin and synths in this musical exploration. As the Bandcamp posting remarks, this project was written between 2019 and 2020, during the failing health and eventual death of Prymek’s dog Favorite. While reflecting on those 14 years of companionship, Lake Mary was the artistic outlet for his loss. The album is composed of two long-form songs, each clocking in around 20 minutes.
Once an SLC-based artist, Lake Mary features “compositions largely evading traditional structures in favor of spacious personal hymns following through the wilderness of deep emotional narrative.” Since SLUG’s 2011 review of Lake Mary’s Sheep Dog EP, where SLUG Contributing Writer Kia McGinnis wrote, “they haven’t quite figured out their niche,” Prymek has certainly come a long way. With upwards of 30 releases listed in Bandcamp, the early days of this solo project are long gone, and Lake Mary makes evident his collaborative maturity and experience.
The first track is titled “Slow Grass” and opens with birds peacefully chirping as slow, hand-picked guitar sporadically interjects. The guitar sounds very clear, and every touch of the instrument is heard—the fingertips sliding on the strings, a wrist resting against the hollow body. At around four minutes, Patrick Shiroishi’s voice joins in softly, as if from far away, singing in a different language. At nine minutes, a playful whistle joins in, like someone calling for their dog from across a park—my dog, napping under my kitchen table, perked up and began looking around for the source of its call.
The song features plenty of beautiful sounds, but they’re introduced with a jarring effect, rejecting any form of traditional song structure. In the last quarter of “Slow Grass,” Lake Mary abandons a peaceful, bird-song, grass-carpeted meditation for a fast-paced and extended crescendo.
Banjo-like strumming wakes you from the earlier nap; Shiroishi’s saxophone joins as the bird chirping stops. The flutter of activity almost forces you to get moving, to get started on that task you’d procrastinated doing for the last hour. The sound is interesting, but almost anxiety-inducing, like something unexpected and unpleasant is happening.
Slow Grass is made for vinyl; the physical routine of flipping the record over serves as the necessary transition between the two parts, almost as a palate cleanser. The second song, titled “So Long Favorite,” is identifiable as the same artist but from a very different mindset. As the title suggests, this is a farewell, and it’s as heart-wrenching as it is beautiful. Featuring more of Shiroishi’s saxophone, violins from Chris Jusell and classic, John Fahey–esque fingerstyle guitar, “So Long Favorite” is mesmerizing. While much of the song feels familiar, as other instrumental acoustic tracks might sound, Pyrmek is unique with his use of violin and saxophone. Here, the two instruments weave in and out, so close that it’s difficult to tell which is which. The guitar keeps pace for most of the song’s length.
“So Long Favorite,” by contrast to the first side, is more soothing and peaceful. It ebbs and flows in a natural way without experimenting with too many unexpected elements. As a listener, I felt I could relax into the journey of this song, whereas the first was occasionally uncomfortable, like a shirt tag poking at the back of your neck. The second track serves as the perfect soundtrack for a slow afternoon or a quiet morning.
Lake Mary delivers a masterpiece with Slow Grass, a remarkable balance of something profoundly personal and communally welcoming. Prymek’s grief in Slow Grass is shared—its music expands among and around its listeners as a comfortable companion. The experience of loss here is beautiful in the sadness. –Katie Hatzfeld