Now/It's: Something to Listen To - '6' by October Tooth

There are themes within popular culture that those who write about it vacillate between intimate understanding and total disassociation. Sometimes for better, other times for worse. Obviously, these thematic familiarities and not so’s vary from writer to writer, and one such popular notion of popular culture that continues to baffle myself (a writer) is the that of nostalgia the appropriation which coincides with it.

A quick, passing glance at the greater pop cultural world would suggest that nostalgia has developed an appropriative presence in the modern zeitgeist. In this case, the term “appropriation” does not carry the grating political connotation that has become all too familiar with its increased use as of late. Instead, it’s more closely associated with the artistic version of appropriation, which is the act of adopting, borrowing, recycling, or sampling of preexisting media.

“Classic” examples of this form of artistic appropriation include the readymades of Marcel Duchamp, the early twentieth century works of Pablo Picasso (Guitar, Newspaper, Glass and Bottle) and Georges Braque (Fruit Dish and Glass), and the later (but probably most fitting example), “pop art” movement of the mid- to mid-late century.

Anyone and everyone who spends time with a particular piece of art can better understand a piece on a basis of the whole, as opposed to its individual parts. A nice, topical example (at the time this is being written) is Jonah Hill’s directorial debut, Mid90s. At this point, the general audience for Mid90s will be too young to have actually lived in the era of which the film took place, but the film itself borrows from the artistic mediums of American Graffiti, Kids, The Outsiders, Spike Jonez, hip-hop, and more to better contextualize the bygone for those who might be otherwise unfamiliar. That is good nostalgia appropriation, something like Stranger Things is not.

Screening preferences aside, artistic appropriation simply recontextualizes, allowing those interpreting the art to infer and speculate further upon the new work thanks to the previous works of which the new work adapts and borrows from. There are new arrivals based upon universal truths with each subsequent “visit.” Such has long been the case of October Tooth, the long-standing project between Zachary Threlkeld and “Cowboy” Sam Gidley.

For the uninitiated, October Tooth is Threlkeld and Gidley’s highly iterative version of the aforementioned artistic appropriation. Each year, the two revisit and analyze former installments of the music anthology, building and extending bounds thought previously to be unattainable. In the case of 2018’s release - 6 - there are a number of notable “extensions.”

Where previous iterations of October Tooth were highly minimalist, 6 opens with a nearly antithetical position of production posturing with “Zooms”. Shifting from heavily modulated vocals and undulating rhythms, Threlkeld and Gidley play with the previous expectations of “what” an October Tooth record is “supposed” to sound like. The familiar calm and general collection is ever present, but is all the while cloaked in a new veil of sonic expansion, almost to the point of overload.

As for the lyrical content of “Zooms,” Threlkeld’s purview is definitively more unambiguous all the while being as shrouded in symbolism as ever. In a sense, “Zooms” could be argued as an outright lyrical appeal for Nike backing on all future October Tooth endeavors, when in reality, it’s an allegorical snapshot of a place in time.

With as strong as 6 is, it would be more than justified in an additional thousand words on each individual song and the nuances of each, but it might be best served for the listener to arrive upon such discoveries on their own (much like artistic appropriation invites). 6 experiences moments of misdirect, where it becomes progressively “on brand” with “Lighting” and “Wilson Park,” but maintain a recontextualization of the October Tooth spirit and sound, only to be totally subverted by the magnificently bouncy (and flirtatiously effervescent) “Peace Home.”

In a sense - or at least, in my mind - 6 is the ultimate October Tooth homage that just so happens to come from the pair that make up OT. It is their artistic appropriation. A nostalgia of their own making. Totally recontextualized in the sense that 6 simultaneously opens and closes any and all October Tooth conceptions, 6 is the perfect artistic appropriation of the project.

Sure, that does seem oddly “meta” misnomer, but where October Tooth was a project that saw the majority of the past decade searching for a purpose, or space, 6 serves as the most realized love letter to those past iterations.

Whether or not 6 is just another episode in the ongoing anthology, the final iteration as we’ve known it in Nashville, or the final installment of October Tooth, period, 6 is most accurately defined as a worthy end. 6 is something to return to throughout time, to recall smaller moments and major strides made in simpler times. It is a perfect exeunt. It is October Tooth.

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