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It sounds silly but it’s true: Aaron Berg simply is a treasure trove. His knack for language both behind the pen and the microphone communicate poignant insights and offer small snapshots of moments in time in a deceptively simple manner. The language he uses combines the vernacular of the everyman with the mind of a well read thinker without ever overstuffing the content with ten dollar words that, while effective, would needlessly stick out like a sore thumb.
The Midnight Shining Sun project is exactly the sort of thing artists in today’s musical climate should take note of. A multimedia experience that’s one part literature, one part music, Aaron Berg offers something exclusively special to people, a tangible experiment that means something to get your hands on as opposed to a quick click of the computer mouse (though you can do that if you so desire). With the music industry in such a tumultuous state, artists should not be clamoring to perfect just the right song to get a hit, but reveling in the chance to be completely creative as a means to express themselves outside conventional means.
Contained within the prose portion of Midnight Shining Sun is what Berg calls “a travelogue and autobiography in two acts.” Primarily written in two New York diners late at night, the acts are comprised of a series of vignettes, some long enough to possibly be short stories themselves, that tie to one another, together giving a depiction of who Aaron Berg was at this specific point in his life, a detail of a one week tour in 2007 (Act One)as well as a glimpse of his final days spent living in New York, culminating in his exit from the city (Act Two). It reminds me in a small way of Tim o’Brien’s The Things They Carried in the way each portion is it’s own expression and not precisely a chapter, yet still comes together to mold a full body of work.
What helps reinforce the prose as Berg’s voice is his disregard for most traditional grammatical norms. There is no capitalization and outside of the occasional comma, there’s little to no punctuation other than periods to end sentences, further impacting their importance as the end of the thought. Whether this was intentional, or my English degree is causing me to talk straight out of my ass, the fact remains that he is never coming off as someone using a kitschy e. e. cummings style or trying to emulate a Kerouac stream of conscious style. He’s too sharp in his language and his thoughts are too focused to be accused of just rambling on, hoping to grasp a piece of insight out of the muck of words. Berg’s chosen form of writing helps instill the late night diner atmosphere. As you read, you can almost see him hunched over a counter scribbling on a notebook or napkin, ignoring the cooling coffee and eggs beside him.
Attached to the prose, as an added bonus, is an appendix of songs from his records (and some not) in alphabetical order, dating from 2005 to 2010. It doesn’t feel like something that was tacked on, though. After being inside Berg’s mind for two acts of prose, the opportunity to read his lyrics like a book of poetry gives the reader a firmer grip on what value the songs hold and a rare chance to read what it might have felt like when the lyrics were penned.
Love & Coffee Tapes Volume 1 & 2 make up the audio portion of the project, a CD inserted at the back of the book (at least in my copy). The record is described as a “collection of bootlegs, live tapes, and remixes,” but like Berg’s prose, it feels as focused and determined as any “proper” release.
Composed and relatively quiet, this mostly acoustic effort exudes an authentic American sound. Not Americana, but a sound and mood one can only achieve by being born and raised in the United States. By growing up playing on cracked sidewalks and gravel driveways, eating at real, local places before there was a Starbucks on every corner, taking late night road trips, wandering the deserted streets at night, waving “Hello” (or avoiding) the same faces next door for fifteen years. This is not something you can emulate by just popping by the States for two weeks while on holiday. Sure, you can get the flavor, but that’s something entirely different. Fried okra from Wade’s Restaurant is pretty tasty, but it’s nothing compared to the homemade real deal.
Opening with “The Wheel,” Love & Coffee Tapes Volume 1 & 2 seems to mirror aspects of the prose. Berg sings “Don’t all the faces seems so strange/When you’ve find you’ve begun to gaze/Into the never ending space/That’s lying in front of you” and its easy to imagine a musician being on tour and thinking those very same thoughts.
Conversely, the ending track “Morning Song” feels like the end, as if these were parting words before ending a chapter of ones life, ending with the closing thought: “there will come an answer though I know not where.”
“Farewell Song” sticks out as one of the few electric guitar efforts. it’s raw live sound and reverberating guitar progressions in a blues fashion create a stifling humid, late night atmosphere that stands out amongst the cleaner tracks from the album, but as it begins what’s considered the second volume of Love and Coffee Tapes, it seems like a turn in the action that shifts gears from the frenetic tour life to the culminating action that leads to leaving town. Again, I could be reading into something that doesn’t exist at all, but accompanied with the prose, it’s difficult not to apply the music as a soundtrack of sorts.
Bob Dylan certainly sounds like he’s been an influence at some point, but Berg does not wear it on his sleeve like other traveling musicians and maintains his unique voice from start to finish. His deep though quiet voice commands a very subtle power in its delivery, and the acoustic guitar ranges throughout the record from structured and composed song structures to a source of wandering melody, causing some of the songs to borderline spoken word poetry territory. One of my personal favorite tracks is “House of Light,” which contains a line that fully resonated with and floored me: “there’s no place left for a young man anymore.”
Midnight Shining Sun works in every conceivable way. Aaron Berg has done himself and Carolina music a great service with this project. Not only does he offer a multimedia project high in quality on both levels, but this serves as an example of what you can do with your talent to create something that means something to your audience. Give them something special and people will recognize it. Both the Midnight Shining Sun prose and the Love and Coffee Tapes are fantastic in their own rights, but together they make a unique interactive experience, the likes of which so few are doing. Both South Carolina and the Upstate should be proud to claim Aaron Berg as one of their own, as he delivers personal artistic expressions in fresh and interesting ways. And he does them so goddamn well.
Midnight Shining Sun and Berg’s other releases can be purchased at http://www.aaronbergmusic.net/.
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