Slow Dakota

PREMIERE

Slow Dakota - Creation of the World

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By Abigail Clyne

Don’t let the joyful nature of the track fool you–Slow Dakota’s new single, “Creation of the World,” is asking the big questions. The title alone hints to this track being more than meets the eye. PJ Sauerteig (Slow Dakota) is joined by Margaux Bouchegnies on vocals and Corey Dansereau on trumpet. Throughout the song, the duo ponders where their urge for expression comes from. “I can’t decide if I write from some Great hole inside,” they sing, and compare their way of creation to that of Christ, “If Christ spoke Mountain Ice all because His Life was flat and dry.”

Later, the pair wonders if their inspiration perhaps comes from a more positive place, “Or do I sing from some Great abundance, bubbling high.” In the end, much like the different expressions of God shown in the Old and New Testaments, it seems a balance has been struck. Creation, and therefore expression, comes out of both desperation and love. The constant plucking of the guitar and later addition of the trumpet allows for this self analysis to never become dour. We all need a helping hand to guide us through the weighty questions, and Slow Dakota makes it both easy and profound all at once.

PREMIERE

Slow Dakota - Canticle 69

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By Abigail Clyne

Has pornography ruined sex? That’s the question Slow Dakota ruminates on in his new cheekily-titled track “Canticle 69” (a risqué joke for the dutiful church goers who know a Canticle is a biblical hymn). The song opens on ebullient marimba and bass line pulsing continually, setting the scene for a successful sexual encounter. The falling scales and washes of sound mirroring the waves of ecstasy one hopes to feel during some good old hanky panky.

With the downward slide of the word “Easy,” PJ Sauerteig enters the scene, but he doesn’t seem to be having a good time. It seems not even this breezy intro can make things enjoyable. “Easy frankly, I’d rather have a Terabyte, a copy of a clone.” Real life sex has become gross, the sterility of porn has replaced the real thing, “Wonder when I fell so out of love with hair and spit.” In the end, he’s honest with himself, “And I can’t even keep it up I guess that means goodbye.” Why bother pretending?

The buoyancy of the track gives way at the end to a meditative spoken word section reminiscent of a biblical story. References to a man and his camel berate our singer, “They stood before my porch staring up at me with beady eyes and said ‘you ruined it, you ruined it forever.’” It seems he’s given up. The simulation has indeed superseded the real thing.

Check out more about Slow Dakota on his Instagram here.

VIDEO PREMIERE: Slow Dakota - Cherry Mary Michigan

Will Shenton

On "Cherry Mary Michigan," director Britta Lee's second music video for Slow Dakota (and, somewhat unbelievably, her second music video ever), we return to the dreamlike Midwestern landscape she explored in last year's "The Lilac Bush." Once again featuring Lee's younger siblings in costumes that place them somehow out of time, the video's impressionistic narrative serves as both a vessel for and foil to PJ Sauerteig's lyrics.

Where Lee's imagery is decidedly rural, "Cherry Mary Michigan" is a song about urban isolation. At its climax, Sauerteig laments, "Why on earth do I live in this prison / Solipsistic overstimulation / Every day, twenty-two blocks of cat-calls / Every night, twenty bills I can’t pay." We're invited to synthesize the two scenes, recognizing alienation in both the bucolic and the metropolitan. It's a conclusion we'd do well to remember: much as we may want to escape, there's no running from ourselves.

VIDEO PREMIERE: Slow Dakota - The Lilac Bush

Will Shenton

Slow Dakota's latest video, an accompaniment for 2015's "The Lilac Bush," is almost meditative in its structure. As the song's breathy flutes begin their dance, we open on a series of gorgeous natural scenes: a woman's legs as she walks down a forest path, a field of lilacs, and a monarch butterfly alighting on one of its blossoms. Director Britta Lee, better known for her portraiture and botanical photos, has translated her visual style into a cinematography that feels both deeply alive and removed from the normal passage of time.

Lyrically, "The Lilac Bush" is a song that recalls an abortive suicide attempt: "I put my chin inside / A mouth of knotted rope / But instead of stopping / My heart began to fly / A dove perched on my shoulder / And whispered in my ear / 'Each day God comes home / With lilacs from His bush / He picks them all for you / His chosen darkling thrush!'" Like much of The Ascension of Slow Dakota, it grapples with artist PJ Sauerteig's sometimes desperate clinging to faith and love in the face of depression and self-loathing. In this case, it was a brief, revelatory moment that saved his life.

The video seems to be a visual interpretation of that hallucinatory respite. It features the director and her 9-year-old sister (perhaps the same person at different points in her life) exploring what the artist describes as a "sort of Midwestern Eden." Overflowing with serenely vibrant life, it serves as a foil to the bleakness of the lyrics, and one that captures the dove's reassuring message: there is love in this world, and beauty, and you belong among all of it.

PREMIERE: Slow Dakota - Rumspringa EP

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Will Shenton

Slow Dakota's sophomore release, Rumspringa, begins on a characteristically aspirational note: "When I'm free / When I leave the city / When I'm free / Then I'll wake up early / I'll tend the rocky fields on the hill / I'll serve the basil in my windowsill." The lyrics are familiar to anyone who's ever dreamt of escape to a more idyllic life, and the way we tend to insist upon plans when we're least certain that we'll actually follow through.

It's a sentiment that fits with the EP's title—a reference to the Amish rite of passage in which adolescents are allowed to explore the outside world—as well as its sound. Mastered by the legendary Greg Calbi (known for his work on countless classic records, from Lennon to Bowie to Talking Heads), Rumspringa is a decidedly more polished album than last year's The Ascension of Slow Dakota. The songwriting is approachable, pop-sensible, and thoroughly fun to listen to, but thankfully manages this evolution without losing any of artist P.J. Sauerteig's distinctively raw delivery, nor the sense of humanizing self-doubt that permeates his work.

Each track on the EP is named for a different whimsical character, with most (if not all—I'm no master of Midwestern geography) referencing a city or state. Titles like "Abram Indiana," "Elijah Yoder," "Cherry Mary Michigan," and "Jebediah Iowa" all drive home that this work is as much about place as it is about personal experience. The names are hybrids of biblical Americana, seemingly entwining Sauerteig's own explorations of religious faith with broader questions of identity and the ever-changing definition of "home" (he even split the recording between his home state of Indiana and his adoptive New York). If we leave and decide to return, what are we coming back to?

Rumspringa is a fitting title for Slow Dakota's relatively short diversion into explicitly pop songwriting; like its namesake, it seems to represent both indulgence and experimentation, but also a subtle, almost reflexive quality of clinging to the familiar. Whether Sauerteig will return to his more avant-garde roots or continue down this infectious rabbit hole remains to be seen. Either way, it's bound to be compelling.