Senior Jason Koth is doing exactly what he wants to do. While he plays a strong role in the classical saxophone studio, Koth also spends much of his time creating and recording music on his own. He has been recording since the end of middle school and near the beginning of college realized the importance of releasing his music—originally intended for just himself—to others. Thus, The Midlands was born; a vehicle for Koth to share music that he describes as reflecting both “life in general and the cyclical nature of emotional ups and downs.”
Last term, his debut EP, “Young,” was released and is followed today, May 5, by the release of his first full-length album, “Light Among Gravity.” Both are sleekly and meticulously constructed, but still maintain a humanity that nearly all listeners will connect to in their own unique ways.
As a debut EP, “Young” is incredibly strong. While there is a more noticeable and powerful arc on the full-length album, the EP does a lot within its 21 minutes, creating a cohesive blend that is unlike most other, shorter debut releases I have heard. It opens quickly with “Heart Beating,” in which layers of trickling and shimmering synths provide a busy backdrop for Koth’s “vocals.” Rather than singing, he plays saxophone in a simple, lyrical fashion, molding his sound after the vocalists from bands such as Paper Route, Sigur Rós and Radiohead. With a commanding tone that remains sensitive, Koth’s saxophone playing is a perfect companion to the otherwise much more ethereal soundscape he creates, providing it with direction.
The next track, “Weightless,” has a much less active atmosphere, building off of lush chords and minimal bass and claps while a pizzicato-esque figure weaves in and out, alternating with the sax. The openness creates plenty of room for the production to breathe and encapsulates the title well, while the sparse percussive noises are grounding and give the weightlessness context.
“Real” is a beautiful piano feature, cut a bit too short. Bittersweet, it echoes—perhaps best of the EP—the themes of childhood and nostalgia Koth wants to convey through The Midlands’ music. Within the context of the greater work, the track provides time for reflection, as the saxophone vocals are not present. Despite the “vocals” not being word-based, their absence is a nice contrast to the other three pieces.
The saxophone comes back on the final track, “With God Surrounding,” a patient soundscape that revels in its very few voices resonating minimally for nearly four minutes—the sax waiting to join until the end of that first half — and quickly blossoms into a much denser, layered soundscape, only to slowly melt away, throughout its second half, into nothingness.
On “Light Among Gravity:”
As mentioned earlier, the arc form is more prevalent on the full-length album. There are many aspects that give this album a very mature vibe; the conceptual way it is constructed is undoubtedly near the top of that list. The beginning takes its time, gradually gaining intensity, slight tones of melancholy becoming more present throughout. The album comes to an emotional peak at “Sometimes,” veering quickly away from the subtler patches and lilting sax tones Koth uses, to incorporate harsher, distorted sounds as well as much thicker textures.
Soon after this, the dust settles once more, and the next track, an interlude entitled “Exist,” bridges the album with a familiar theme, echoed from “Sometimes.” Vocals—actual vocals, not saxophone—sound, washed in reverb and effects, giving them a clean tone that is also warm. The vocals welcome in the somber acoustic guitar of the following track well and after a few minutes of artful layering, again the subdued explodes into the relatively abrasive, harder rock that peeks its head out occasionally throughout the album.
Its arc and emotional impact cannot be done justice with words, but hopefully they have piqued your interest in listening. The expressive weight “Light Among Gravity” has is enormous, yet it still feels distant and reclusive at times. This ties into Koth’s creative process; he originally made this music to fill a void he sensed, but later decided to release it, knowing very well that listeners would often feel differently about it — and that was okay with him.
I cannot suggest listening to Koth’s music and starting a dialogue with him enough. To see someone doing what they want to do creatively and forming such strong ideas of what they want to do for the rest of their life is both inspiring and humbling. I am excited to see where he goes, but no matter what, I know it will be far. Purchase Koth’s music at his Bandcamp, <themidlandsmusic.bandcamp.com>, and keep an eye out for a second album—which is in its cookery stages—and a short film inspired by “Light Among Gravity.”