Named after a vintage Gretsch bass drum pedal, Floating Action is the pseudonym of Black Mountain, North Carolina-based musician, songwriter, and producer Seth Kauffman. Following the 2007 homemade gem Research (released under his own name) and Floating Action’s gorgeously understated self-titled follow-up from 2009, Park the Van is proud to release Desert Etiquette, Kauffman’s third full-length with the New Orleans based indie label.
Taking its title from a legend told to Kauffman by his sister (in the Middle East, it is proper etiquette to leave a drinking vessel for the hypothetical next traveler near a remote oasis) Desert Etiquette is the most stripped-down Floating Action affair to date. Aside from one pedal steel recording on the closing track, every song on Desert Etiquette was written, performed, produced, and recorded by Kauffman himself. His d.i.y. approach is the result of his insatiable searching; chasing the ultimate musical moment: “When an idea comes in directly from above, you can often capture it in it's pure state by eliminating the middle man. Sometimes bottling it at the source is just easier, and nothing gets lost in translation”
There’s no such thing as a “typical” Floating Action song. Folk, soul, southern-rock, gospel, surf, and bedroom lo-fi somehow coexist and cohere in the same record—even the same song. There is, however, a distinct Floating Action sound. Kauffman’s warm recordings and lushly anachronistic sound is uniquely his. The attentiveness given to production quality is palpable; you can all but hear the vinyl crackle in gently graceful tunes like “Please Reveal” or “Rincon.” Like Dr. Dog keyboardist Zach Miller said in a recent interview, “His songs are timeless, effortless, and instantly memorable.”
During the process of making his previous records, Kauffman would write and record quite sporadically, usually over several months. With Desert Etiquette, he challenged himself to do exactly the opposite: to write feverishly—literally—and then compress recording and mixing time dramatically.
Heeding Dylan’s advice that there’s no better time to write than when sick, Kauffman wrote the lyrics for the Desert Etiquette in two days, then recorded the album over a concentrated period of 48 total hours. The process was sudden, pure—an explosion of inspiration that dictated being harnessed in real-time. Kauffman’s friend and collaborator, Band of Horses bassist Bill Reynolds, mixed the record in a similarly off-the-cuff vein—live and spontaneously over two days, using a vintage Trident console.
This new batch of songs is his most focused effort yet. These dedications to stillness and solitude transcend into repeat-listens rather comfortably. Desert Etiquette’s lonely, shimmering songs were recorded without ornamentation or embellishment—often using less than eight tracks per song—and the imagery of Kauffman’s lyrics shines through. Kauffman likens the stark result to Floating Action’s version of Dylan’s John Wesley Harding. With its pared-down instrumentation, Desert Etiquette is distinctly human-scale, a melancholic elegy to the sublime, violent beauty of the American landscape that aims to “capture the feeling you get when you’re in Big Sur.” Floating Action is certainly a southern band—tinges of blues, gospel, and country lace most of their songs—but as Kauffman says, “We're southern band whose hearts are in the west coast.”
released February 15, 2011
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