Album: Nebulae and Debris / self-released
The impact occurred at precisely 10:36 am Eastern Standard Time on the morning of March 15th, 2022. Naturally, I was unprepared – who can truly be ready for such a thing? But, all the same, it was quite a surprise.
I had spent the morning groggy and unfocused, sipping my iced coffee and mentally preparing myself for the seemingly ordinary day ahead. But the tenor of the day changed quite suddenly. First there was a great light, as if from nowhere; surely the sunlight peeking through the trees could not account for the brilliant blue flash. Then a muffled boom, and a minor earthquake, as if the entire earth were fracturing directly outside. After a few panicked moments in the ensuing stillness, I mustered the courage to peek out my back window.
What I saw there, in my backyard, was a massive rock that had evidently fallen from the sky. It had struck the earth and created a perfectly circular impact crater. The object had just barely missed my home, rocketing into the back lawn with almost divine precision. Had it entered Earth’s atmosphere at a slightly altered angle, I would have been obliterated entirely. I downed the rest of my coffee and gazed, confused, into the sky above, marveling at the randomness and cosmic horror of the universe.
With some trepidation, I ventured into the small crater and examined the rock. It wasn’t like any meteorite I had ever seen. It was covered in bas-relief markings I soon realized were intentional and intricately carved by hand. And it appeared not to be subjected to space weathering or any sort of atmospheric decay. It was as though it had simply appeared some distance above the ground, and landed in my backyard. I couldn’t make heads or tails of it.
What followed then was not so much remarkable as what did not follow: inquiries, interrogations, investigations. I had figured this series of events was a major astronomical occurrence, or at least worthy of the evening news. But as the day went by quietly, no one in my neighborhood seemed to have noticed a thing. Nobody knocked on my door, asked me any questions, or let on in the slightest that anything unusual had happened. I saw no authorities, reporters, astrophysicists or little green men.
What I did see was far more peculiar.
As the sun set, a cursory glance into my backyard revealed that the symbols carved into the rock had begun to glow, softly but surely casting a bluish hue through the evening haze. Curious, I ventured back out into the backyard just in time to see the rock split open with a thunderous crack. I shielded my eyes from the blinding blue light, fearing the worst. But, as the dust settled on the split halves of the rock, all was quiet once again. As my eyes readjusted to the darkness, I was thunderstruck to behold a Walkman in the center of the wreckage. It appeared perfectly preserved and in good working condition. It contained a single purple cassette tape inscribed with its author and title.
The tape was called Nebulae and Debris, and was created by Leechwife. As I racked my brain, I realized I’d seen Leechwife perform once before, a long time ago at Cafe Bourbon Street. I remembered her music: chaotic and labored-over, mind-melting, all-consuming. I’d even interviewed her a few months ago about this very album! Of course, this did not explain the whole space-rock business, but this at least made it clearer what I was to do next. I had received a cosmic transmission – in the form of a massive, now-split rock in a crater in my backyard – and it was my job to listen and understand.
Below are my notes as I’ve attempted to capture them.
From time immemorial, humankind has wondered what lies beyond the stars. Even with all the progress we’ve made in the intervening years since actually leaving the Earth, we’ve only discovered about four percent of the universe. But, when your home planet is doomed, sometimes the only option you’re left with is the exploration of deepest space, and all the cosmic mysteries and eldritch horrors that may lie just beyond our vision.
Columbus sludge/doom/industrial/psych-rock cosmonaut Lilith Grace, who performs as Leechwife, takes this idea into the stratosphere on her latest full-length LP. Recorded in the thick of the ever-ongoing global pandemic, Nebulae and Debris – a sci-fi concept album about space-faring through a particularly menacing stretch of the galaxy – takes escapism to a whole new level. Through the course of these eleven songs, Leechwife abandons the Earth to encounter all manner of strange events and lifeforms.
Drawing upon a myriad of influences ranging from retro video games to LSD, Grace has created an auditory journey that the most daring and intrepid listeners can enjoy from the safety of their headphones. The result is an exploratory, wide-ranging album from a talented artist who has not only made the bleeding edge her home, but has used it as a launchpad to propel herself into the musical cosmos. Leechwife has made a lot of great records – check out Goat Milk if you’ve not heard that one – but Nebulae and Debris is an ambitious experimental highlight in a discography full of them.
Album opener Machine Friend immediately tosses the listener – particularly the unprepared one – straight into the deep end. Grace strikes up a stilted 11/4 robotic groove with NES synths, disgustingly heavy guitar and bass, and demonic Stereolab-esque organs. Over this sonic tornado of dissonance, Leechwife’s strained howls act as both an anchor and a unifying element, propelling us through a bullet hell of asteroids before the song eventually collapses into reverse cymbals and instrumental decay. This is absolute chaos if you’re not anticipating it, and it took me a few listens to really wrap my head around everything I was hearing. But once everything clicked into place, I was struck by how logical all these seemingly unusual arrangements and writing choices are. Everything is in its right place, and for a journey of this scope and scale there’s no better introduction.
This chaos segues directly into the title track, Nebulae and Debris. It contains more odd-time grooves and disgusting fuzzed-out bass. The 7/4 groove in the verses is absolutely head-bang inducing. The song strikes up a half-time groove with shredding solos that reminds me of Electric Wizard on Come My Fanatics…, but the sonic palette is all Leechwife. It’s here that I realized how good the mixes are on this record – there are numerous chaotic sonic elements, but they can all be clearly heard and interpreted, and it all contributes to a sort of cosmic primordial soup. “Past presence future voice echoing / I have become the singularity,” chants Grace gutturally, like a demonic prayer.
Citadel Wisps offers a brief respite from the chaos of the previous two songs; it sounds and feels as though our spaceship has flown into a quiet nebula. The song offers a sort of inverted take on a hip-hop or dub instrumental, and feels introspective and exploratory. It’s lightly shimmering and meditative in a calming but unsettling way, as though preparing the listener for the chaos that is to come.
Take This and Be Wire to God’s Throat has become a sort of rallying cry for Leechwife’s music as a whole, and the song itself certainly doesn’t disappoint. Rumbling, chaotic rhythms propel us headlong into tremolo guitars and strange washed-out video game synths. This one took me a few listens to really get into – there’s lots going on – but when the chorus riff kicks in you’ll realize, much as I did, that this shit is heavy. As a composer and musician myself, I will readily admit that I have no idea how to create a similar soundscape, and I can’t conceive of any other way to write in this style than how Leechwife does it.
In our interview, Lilith Grace discussed her affinity for both Nine Inch Nails and the Metroid series; standout track Orbit of the Solar Wyrm feels like a perfect marriage of those influences, especially with its unbelievably nasty sequencer riff. There’s a lot of subtle inner-ear business going on in the mix, and Leechwife returns to another great half-time head-nodding groove to deepen the mystique. Any song about fighting a giant worm monster on the sun would be a-OK with me no matter how it sounds, frankly, but Leechwife has pulled this particular piece off exceedingly well.
Another Citadel offers more classic psych-rock and doom cadences punctuated by Castlevania-esque synths and organs. The wah on the electric guitars is exceptionally groovy, and further enhances the sense of unreality – or, perhaps, heightened reality. “What I seek is another citadel,” intones Grace dramatically, “but this dimension has begun to crack its shell.” This song closely calls to mind the classic-style psychedelic rock of the ‘60s, but bent and inverted into alien and unfamiliar shapes.
Gelatin Planets, Glass Moons is where things really start getting whacked-out. On a lysergic-inspired album like this one, you can really start to hear the blotter paper dissolving if you listen closely. I particularly enjoy the phased banjo/electric combo Grace plays on this song, which offers us another brief respite from the chaos before diving back in.
Next we have Lunar War Herd, another visually evocative and exciting piece about strange space creatures – in this case, an army of evil space goats. There’s a lot of great conceptual writing on this album, but this piece may have my favorite theming. The drum beats have become a steady march of death, calling to mind the trampling hooves of legions of goat soldiers. Strange whacked-out string tones in the left and right channels are propelled by a malevolent, distorted groove in the center. There’s also an especially ass-kicking guitar solo in the back half, which feels more than earned.
We return to retro video game influences on Observation Murmuration, funneling classic 8-bit sound palettes through bizarre caverns of tremolo electric guitars. This one is a straight-ahead rocker, but it’s been shifted and warped into something uncanny and unfamiliar. Leechwife’s voice echoes through my headphones as though she were screaming unholy rites from the bottom of a well. I really enjoy the lumbering punk cadences on this song, especially combined with the video game synthesis.
Suns Spiral Through Earth feels like a grand comedown, or perhaps entire universes bending, folding and collapsing in slow motion. This track definitely feels the most like doom metal out of everything here, which for me is always a good thing. The brutal half-time doom groove feels almost apocalyptic in nature, annihilating all that has come before it. This one also has some exceptionally good lyrics, as Grace howls, “The skin drips from my bones like primordial rain / I’ve come down changed / It’s all come down changed.” The song fades long and slow into oscillations of noise and feedback, consuming our feeble spacefaring vessel with all the might of a black hole.
Closer Fractal Castles feels like the album’s thesis statement in miniature. Out of all Leechwife’s homages to NES-era classic video games, this feels the purest, and paradoxically it’s the perfect way to close out a record full of whacked-out string instruments. The rest of the album’s inundation of sounds and samples has been eaten alive by a black hole, and the cosmic order of 8-bit synthesis, guitar, bass and drums is all that remains. It feels as though Grace’s songwriting process has been broken down, transmuted and reconstituted into something else entirely.
We have made it through this cosmic journey – somehow, some way – but it is clear that we are no longer the same.
When I awoke the next morning, the space rock and the crater it created had both disappeared from my backyard; gone, too, were the tape and Walkman. It was as if the cosmic incident that so conspicuously interrupted my daily routine mere hours earlier had never existed. And yet…
My thoughts and daydreams have been inundated with strange sounds and arcane symbols. Lightly doodling on a piece of paper, I’ve caught myself absently sketching the strange runes that glowed in blue on the broken rock. And although I’ve been a lifelong resident of Earth, I am suddenly consumed with a desire to know all there is to know in the universe – to explore what lies beyond our feeble, fragile planet.
There is hardly anybody I can talk to about this. No one remembers the light, or the sound, or seems in any way aware of any unusual cosmic activity. I half-expected a cadre of FBI agents or Area 51 employees to knock on my door in the coming weeks with pointed questions and requests for information, but absolutely nothing happened. My neighborhood is quiet; the sun rises and sets as it always has, and the days and nights pass without incident.
Yet as the world carries on in a state of relative normalcy, I know that something within me has been irrevocably changed. The endless reverberations of the universe call to me, a cosmic hum that rings like tinnitus in the caverns of my mind. Something deep within me longs to answer this call, to venture fearlessly into the furthest reaches of space. In my dreams, I see the rock, its glowing blue etchings taunting me with the siren song of the cosmos.
It is clear that I am no longer the same.
- Machine Friend
- Nebulae and Debris
- Citadel Wasps
- Take This And Be Wire To God’s Throat
- Orbit Of The Solar Wyrm
- Another Citadel
- Gelatin Planets, Glass Moons
- Lunar War Herd
- Observation Murmation
- Suns Spiral Through Earth
- Fractal Castles