Wednesday, May 13, 2009

United Bible Studies: The Jonah

Our myths live in the past, but when we tell stories about the end of things we treat them as literal. What we need is a myth of the future that can act on the same unconscious triggers that myths of the past are able to do. The best modern myths rely on both the language of earlier stories and the a vision of our own human situation. We are not the ancients, and yet the symbols that activate those parts of our religious and spiritual imaginings have not changed that much. In fact, the only thing that has really changed is how we have sucked all the mythic power from them by making them literal, what Umberto Eco calls "Turning metaphysics in mechanics." Talking about chakras or 2012 as literal is no different from a reading of Genesis that says the world really was created in seven days.

So thank God for music, where we can continually play out all the contradictory and strange and wonderful meanings that our myths provide. But even here there is the danger of musical ideas taking on literal weight. Or worse, in an attempt to capture something of the mythology of the ancients, there is the potential for seeming a parody of oneself.

But not with United Bible Studies remarkable new album The Jonah, who use to their advantage every musical style that has recently been capable of devolving into silliness (psych- and outsider-folk, doom, prog) and uses them tools to carve a new myth onto the stones of our psyches.

A line in the title track,"We sleep in the skeletons of large animals," is one of the most perfectly crafted verses in apocalyptic-leaning underground music I have heard. Not only does it invoke the whale of the title's Biblical namesake, but it recalls the human experience of all our stories. The world doesn't come to an end without witnesses, and no matter who we think we are, we will always need to rest. The song continues: "We rise with our back to the sun/ we live in the shadows of waterfalls..."

Myth implies cycles, and eternity. Literalism is the death of myth but there is no better place to remain inside those cycles than in nature. United Bible Studies builds mythology out of the real, and in doing so makes that human part of us that is born from the woods and the rivers and sky into something eternal as well. There is no death when at every immeasurable moment something is transforming, something is being released, being born, emerging.

--United Bible Studies: A for Andromeda