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If you haven’t felt the sting of total isolation recently, a spin of Constellations should do the trick. The album, the second from D.C.’s Teething Veils, uses a haunting, sparse combination of drums and guitar to sink deep into the darkest corners of detachment. Clearly, it’s not suited for a casual listen. Slow-moving arrangements, full of intense shifts in mood and texture, bury listeners beneath a mountain of weighted guitars and crashing percussion, leaving them alone to explore feelings of loss, anxiety, frustration, and even a little joy.
In 2013, Teething Veils released Velorio. The 21-track debut, recorded by frontman Greg Svitil (formerly of the Antiques) and more than a dozen collaborators, largely featured the same melancholy tone that permeates Constellations. On Velorio, Svitil fleshed out his achingly personal compositions with viola, organ, and cello, among other instrumentation, offering a hint of softness between stretches of heartbreak. On Constellations, that accompaniment is absent—Svitil recorded the album using only drums, bass, keyboards, and guitar, scaling down his team of collaborators to just Nathan Jurgenson (drums) and Sam Chintha (guitar).
But Constellations isn’t all doom and gloom. The album’s downtrodden tone builds, evolving into something that is emotionally rich and, at the same time, eerily cold. It’s a gripping dynamic that conjures unsettling images of emptiness, only to fill the void with just enough interaction to spark an overwhelming sense of relief. And Constellations provides an uninterrupted arena for listeners to explore their emotions: The album is comprised of two tracks, both clocking in at around 25 minutes. The timing isn’t a coincidence: The B-side of the album is a mirror track, crafted in full from the A-side’s reel of tape played backward.
The A-side (the title track) of Constellations is constantly in flux, evolving ever so slightly with every strum. The track starts off slow, easing in with soft, intricate percussion that bleeds into improvised but skillfully spaced guitars. This simple structure serves as a guide through the long, winding shifts in speed and key that lie ahead. Like a hike through a dense fog that leads to something either wonderful or terrifying, the first seven minutes of “Constellations’” inspires a mixture of anxiety and wonder. But once you make it through the haze, the guitar picks up, the drums pound, and the resulting explosion of tones is a punch to the gut. As the initial shock wears off, a sense of release sets in, made even more satisfying by the introduction of Svitil’s deep, spoken-sung vocals. The lyrics are morose, with lines that touch on coldness, isolation, and unfulfilled wishes. Svitil’s prose tickles the darkest corners of the psyche, but it’s a welcome form of human interaction, making the lonely atmosphere of the song’s beginning a distant memory.
Yes, Constellations’ B-side, “Dimmer” is a reverse play of the first track, but on first listen, you’d never know it. In press materials, Svitil says that song’s reel of tape is played backward and remixed to highlight facets of the original composition, but it’s hard to pinpoint any specific structural updates. More than anything, “Dimmer” seems to magnify its companion’s atmospheric qualities, taking on a more ambient, sinister feel. Where the dark tone of “Constellations’” feels like it will eventually give way to something gorgeous or grim, “Dimmer” evokes a an interminable melancholy feeling throughout. The resulting sluggish, sonic canvas can be used as an outlet to process the residual emotions incurred from the album’s A-side, or treated as a new experience entirely.
By reworking a single composition, Svitil dares his audience to plunge back into the darkness only seconds after emerging wide-eyed and drained. It’s this challenge that forces listeners to absorb the album in a vulnerable state, embracing each key change and shuddering at every shift. But whether you listen to Constellations as two distinct tracks or one long, ambitious arrangement, its ability to drown out distractions and stir up real emotions—good or bad—is refreshing, exhausting, and strange.