2016 was a heavy year for Chris Robley. Between President Trump’s unexpected ascension to the White House and the loss of his father, the artist went looking for answers.
On October 1, Robley revealed his thoughts in the shape of a new album, A Filament In The Wilderness of What Comes Next via Cutthroat Pop Records. Co-produced alongside Jeff Stuart Saltzman (Deer Tick, Death Cab for Cutie) and Edwin Paroissien (Little Beirut, Pacific Mean Time), the cinematic collection conjures up questions within its titular sentiment as it relates to the state of a world that seems to have tilted out of orbit.
A lush sonic backdrop bolsters Robley’s unabashed lyricism. As an award-winning poet, the Maine-based artist emphasizes the critical nature of empathy through intentional character development. Over the course of seven tracks, the artist chronicles the unraveling of society. Leveraging the magnetism of tragedy, Robley traps his listeners in the tangled labyrinth of his indie-folk soundscape and carefully conveys a few glaring concepts while he has their attention.
Serving as the album closer, “Filament” ties up loose ends of the poised album project.
“This album seemed to need something sprawling at the end,” Robley tells American Songwriter over the phone. “Filament” serves as a bookend to the many voices echoing through the opening track, “American Dreams.”
“There’s the widow of a military vet, the Sudanese soccer star, the woman contemplating her escape—lots of hopefully-believable, but fictitious characters,” says Robley. “Then I put myself in there in the middle of it, the real me, cleaning out the medicine cabinet of steroids and chemo pills following my dad’s death.”
Much of his healing process involved making peace with the political differences that splintered Robley and his father’s otherwise closely aligned connection. The months leading up to the 2016 election aligned with the hardest days of his father’s battle with cancer. Watching these two untethered instances simultaneously climb to an unfavorable outcome, the two situations began to bind in Robley’s deepest places of fear.
“He was a hero my whole life, and even more so in his last months—despite the many philosophical disagreements we had along the way,” he describes of his father. “That seemed to be a bridge to the last thing I wanted to say on this album; that America, this place I love despite its flaws and contradictions, can still be a useful idea that calls to our better angels. Joe Henry probably said it better in ‘Our Song,’ but basically: It’s okay for me to love my country if I hold it accountable at the same time. The way a father loves a son, with encouragement, forgiveness, and the occasional swift kick in the pants.”
Robley admits Gillian Welch’s album closer, “I Dream A Highway,” served as a sonic muse for this final track. “I always admired the subtle fierceness,” Robley explains. “It’s a billion years long. It never changes. And yet, it’s full of so many worlds—like Dylan’s perpetual and surreal ballads.”
Lead vocals from Anna Tivel and Margaret Gibson Wehr add levity to the etchings from the darkest corners of Robley’s conscious. Their interjecting narration helps conceptualize the overlapping voices of these stories intended to evoke the patchwork of people that make up The United States of America.
Honored to contribute, Tivel describes the song as “slow untangling of American truths, observational and cinematic.” Further she likens the track to “a good short story, or the undercurrent of a conversation, hits me in the gut every time.”
Listen to “Filament” below.
Photo Credit: Lauren Breau