Slip on Dark Arc, the newest album by Columbus, Ohio, alternative folk-popsters Saintseneca, and you are greeted by a sound that takes obvious delight in time travel.
The opening, Blood Bath, starts like a throwback to the psychedelic acoustic music fashioned at the dawn of the 1970s by the Incredible String Band — that is until chant-like cheer reminiscent of the Lumineers chimes in. Move on to the splintered pageantry of So Longer and Conor Oberst comes to mind. By the time Dark Arc's title track takes the album down the home stretch, we hear an Eno-fied version of the Decemberists.
That doesn't even take into consideration the folky introspection of Neutral Milk Hotel, the 1990s pop ambience of Mazzy Star and the light narrative abstraction of 1980s-era Robyn Hitchcock that echo throughout Dark Arc. In fact you could play "Spot the Influence" all day with a record like this.
In the end, though, what Saintseneca chieftain Zac Little has designed is a patchwork of sonic color with mandolin, balalaika, dulcimer and the Eastern stringed instrument known as the baglama as his favored utensils. But Little admitted the sounds on Dark Arc were as much the product of accidental discovery as they were of any purposeful inclination on his part.
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"Sometimes when you have a vision for a song, you're kind of aiming for something," said Little, who brings Saintseneca to Lexington tonight for the second performance in WUKY's Phoenix Friday series. "But that sound can be a pretty abstract goal, so in the process of being inspired by something you inevitably end up landing somewhere else. A lot of times that becomes something interesting and exciting about the recording process, to have that little bit of dissonance between where you're aiming and where you're landing all the time."
On the surface the instrumentation surrounding Dark Arc might seem reflective of Little's upbringing in Noble County, a rural region in southeast Ohio that runs through Appalachia. But the Saintseneca frontman said no regional trait, favored artist or cherished recording stands as a pivotal inspiration. Music, he said, has been his mission since childhood.
"I think I've always had that drive and always had something that subconsciously motivated me to do this. I don't think there was ever a moment where I was a passive listener of music and then flipped a switch and said, 'Now I'm going to start taking this seriously.' I mean, even from the time I was very young, I had the impulse to write songs. But it wasn't until I was a little older that I actually had instruments and the conduits through which I could express those things and channel that impulse. Then, once I started playing in bands, even on a really small level, I always took it really seriously. I don't think things have really shifted."
Initial EP recordings were the first order of business after Saintseneca formed. While the personnel shifted dramatically after the release of its first album (ironically titled Last), the band exists today as an expansive sounding combo that also includes Maryn Jones, Steve Ciolek and Jon Maedor as it tours behind Dark Arc. The record also marks Saintseneca's debut on Anti- Records, the label home of Tom Waits, Kate Bush and Neko Case, among other notables.
"We're out there chugging along, but I think one of the things that becomes important is to take a step back and find a level of fulfillment in every step," Little said. "You can set some lofty goal. But when we're selling out some place with 1,000 people packed in, that's when I'll really feel that I've made it. But that's also an artificial standard of success. To feel supported and feel like what you're doing means something to other people is pretty important, too."