“I’m very interested in liminal states of being,” says The Otolith’s lead vocalist and violinist, Sarah Pendleton, as she discusses the inspiration behind the title of the band’s debut album, Folium Limina. “Where you’re in between two states for a few minutes or maybe a few seconds. Like the transition between sleep and awake, sobriety and euphoria, or even between life and death. It’s a place where anything canhappen.”
If you’re looking for music to alter your state of mind, The Otolith’s intoxicating and experimental blend of doom and post-rock that’s punctuated by violins and multiple vocals may be just what you’re after.
Named after a structure in the inner ears of certain animals that helps them to sense motion, sound and balance, The Otolith was formed by former members of SubRosa, the experimental Salt Lake City-based collective who split in 2019. Anyone who was a fan of SubRosa’s violin-tinged heaviness will find plenty to love in the sounds of The Otolith, but this new band also stands firmly on its own.
“It’s really rare to find that kind of chemistry,” Sarah says, explaining that when SubRosa split, many of the bandmembers continued to jam together, wanting to hold on to the special connection that they had. “We knew we couldn’t live without making music with each other. The communication is almost non-verbal; it’s a huge gift.”
In 2020, The Otolith (completed by Kim Cordray on violin and vocals, Levi Hanna on guitar and vocals, Andy Patterson on drums and percussion and Matt Brotherton on bass and vocals) were asked to contribute to the Women Of Doom compilation on Blues Funeral Recordings, which also included tracks by Deathbell, Frayle and Mlny Parsonz (of Royal Thunder).
“That gave us a solid goal to come up with a song,” Sarah says. The result was the mesmeric track Bone Dust, the first song they wrote together as a band, which would later end up on their debut album. “We’re so conscious of the fact that there will be comparisons made [with SubRosa],” Sarah says. “And we understand that, and that’s OK, because we spent so many years building that and working on that. We want to prove ourselves as The Otolith, but we also recognise how lucky we are to be able to stand on the shoulders of the work that we did.”
In making The Otolith’s debut album Folium Limina, Sarah explains that it was a wholly collaborative approach –any member of the band could bring a song to the table, and everyone could write lyrics.
“What we’ve ended up with is a grouping of songs that are about different things, and the writing process for each song might be completely different,” she says.
The six tracks on the album – all of them surpassing the nine-minute mark – take the listener on different sonic and thematic journeys. The pummelling Andromeda’s Wing follows the journey of a sleepwalker who moves through the countryside at night and encounters aliens, while the hypnotic post-rock of Ekpyrotic is about the individual power that every human has that can be stamped out by modern distractions. The mesmeric opener, Sing No Coda, is about the isolation and loneliness that Sarah felt during and after 2020.
“There was this sort of strange hypochondria that settled over me,” Sarah explains. “I was missing my friends so much that it hurt, and there was nothing you could do to stop the disintegration of those relationships.”
After the events of 2020, these are likely feelings that everyone can relate to. Sarah agrees. “All of us,” she says. “The whole planet. And anything that can unite humans, to me, is a good thing. I am so, so tired of the divisions and the lines between us.”
This message of unity is also clear in the track Bone Dust, which has been expanded from its original version for the album with the addition of Charlie Chaplin’s final, extraordinary speech from the 1940 film The Great Dictator. The film parodied Hitler, fascism and the Nazis as World War II raged, and even now, more than 80 years on from its release, the message of this powerful monologue still resonates.
“Andy [Patterson] had us listen to the speech,” says Sarah of the scene in which Chaplin impersonates a dictator named Adenoid Hynkel, but without the leader’s hatred. “It fits so well with our worldview. He is talking about how he doesn’t want to be in a position of power, he doesn’t want to be a dictator, he doesn’t want to rule people. He says, ‘You don’t hate, only the unloved hate’, and I think that’s a really good point. I adore Charlie Chaplin because I think making people laugh is a sacred business. But he was also so much more than that.”
Another theme that connects the songs on Folium Limina is the drive to keep moving, keep creating, even when times are rough, to find catharsis. Sarah mentions the Latin phrase ‘Ad astra per aspera’ that translates to ‘Through hardships to the stars.’
“As you get older, and you realise how limited your time is, not knowing how much time you have left to have adventures – like playing shows around the world – there’s this sense of urgency,” she explains. A sense of: ‘Let’s make the most of this time we have…’”
Folium Limina is out now via Blues Funeral Recordings