Brian Cook is perhaps mostly known from being the bass player in Russian Circles and SUMAC and previously in Botch, These Arms Are Snakes and more. He’s about to release his solo project under moniker Torment & Glory called We Left a Note with an Apology. The idea for this solo project started when Brian found himself crashing on a friend’s couch after a late night of drinking. A weathered vinyl copy of Springsteen’s Nebraska was on the living room turntable, spinning endlessly on its run-out groove after everyone else in the house had passed out. Brian opted to give it one last spin before calling it a night. There was so much dust on the platter that the needle only occasionally caught the groove, creating a wall of fuzz distortion with the occasional acoustic guitar and lonesome voice creeping out of the ether. What was ultimately just a fluke of a poorly treated LP became the sonic inspiration for a recording project that would eventually take on the name Torment & Glory. Brian started writing songs on a Fostex X-14 cassette four-track a few weeks later, hoping to emulate that downtrodden-songwriter-
A lot of other band commitments plus the global COVID pandemic resulted in quite a delay in the recording of We Left a Note with an Apology, but in December 2020 the album was finally recorded and now Sargent House is proud to release Torment & Glory’s We Left a Note with an Apology on digital formats on August 27th with vinyl format arriving on/around October 15th (pre-order here).
We asked Brian to talk to us about 3 releases that have influenced his Torment & Glory project a lot, which you can read below…
Silver Jews – Bright Flight
I know most folks—including the late great David Berman—would probably put American Water at the top of the Silver Jews discography. And I have to say that Berman’s famous line from that album–“all my favorite singers couldn’t sing”–is both a mantra in my life and something that was floating around in my head throughout the process of working on the Torment & Glory record, especially considering that the album was, in part, an attempt to rehabilitate my voice after a mysterious six-month bout of vocal cord paralysis. But Bright Flight has always been my favorite album by Berman. It’s a very imperfect album, but the flaws only serve to make it feel more human, vulnerable, and immediate. I used to paint back in my twenties, and there was always some moment in the process where I suddenly realized the painting was finished, even if there were parts of the canvas that I’d intended to work on more. I knew if I kept going, I was going to take away some aspect of its magic, and it was better to leave it a little unrefined than to obsess over every little detail. That’s how I feel about Bright Flight. At some point the initial vision was attained, even if the sonic details weren’t entirely ironed out. Of course, there’s also some parallels between Berman’s down-and-out aging punk’s spin on Americana and my own work, but the real lesson from Bright Flight was the ability to capture the magic of the moment, warts and all.
Heldon – Allez Téia
I initially wanted to record We Left A Note… in an unadorned fashion. I wanted natural room sounds, like a lo-fi version of Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock. I quickly realized that I didn’t have the recording equipment, technical expertise, or the acoustic space to make that work. So the challenge was to create a sense of space and scale with layers of auxiliary instrumentation. And rather than defaulting to the usual supplementary Americana sounds, I looked to records from the ‘70s that had a rich sonic dimension. I’ve half-jokingly referred to my album as kosmische country, mainly because I wanted to borrow from the cosmic country template of Flying Burrito Brothers while swapping Gram Parson’s backing band with Michael Rother and Manuel Göttsching. But I think the kosmische tag got people thinking there was gonna be Jaki Liebezeit and Klaus Dinger beats on the album. So let’s dismiss the krautrock angle… I really just wanted woozy anti-gravity guitar lines trailing all over the songs. I wanted Fripp & Eno’s layers of fuzz-and-delay drenched melodies. I wanted to avoid chords whenever possible and instead stack single notes on top of each other to imply those chords while giving the songs a palpable sense of depth. Heldon’s second album succeeded at doing all those things. The guitars are drenched in effects that make them feel like exhaled smoke hanging in the air. The overall vibe is warm, hypnotic, and immersive. It’s one of those records that really feels like it sucks you into another world, and that’s what I wanted to replicate.
ZOMES – Zomes
Asa Osborne is another musician who’s had an enormous and ongoing influence on how I think about music. It’s so easy to overcomplicate things, and then you hear a song like Lungfish’s ‘The Evidence’ and it’s like… holy shit, you can write something that powerful with just three or four notes?? Osborne’s work with ZOMES is even more profound in that sense. A song might just be two alternating notes on a cheap keyboard, but it somehow creates a whole universe. I thought about ZOMES—and this self-titled debut in particular—a lot during the writing and recording process. It doesn’t sound like an album that was intended to be heard by the public; it sounds like a series of little private musical meditations captured on a boom box. I really needed that at the end of 2020, when it felt like everything was on the brink of collapse with COVID and the uproar surrounding the election. It was enormously comforting to have these songs that I could play by myself on an acoustic guitar, and they didn’t have to appease anyone other than myself. The whole world could shut down, the grid could fail, but it wouldn’t take these songs away from me. I wasn’t sure if they were ever going to be shared in any capacity, but the mere act of getting these melodies that had been stuck in my head to manifest themselves wasn’t just gratifying… it felt healing in some way. And if I ever thought my playing was too primitive or my songs were too simple or my recording skills were too unrefined, I could throw on a ZOMES record, bask in its humble brilliance, and remind myself that my songs were my own little private meditations, and they didn’t need to be shared with anyone.