The Law of Unintended Consequences states that, while human actions often give way to their intended results, all human actions have at least one unintended result as well. For example: tell your lover you don’t love him and he will eventually leave your bed. But, driven from your bed, this same person might be pushed so far off track that he packs a bag and heads for a secluded mountain retreat where he replaces a life of beer and pretzels for one of prayer beads and incense. Our actions reverberate in unexpected ways.
Twenty-something years of studying these sometimes surprising causes-and-effects is what led Jesy Fortino to become Tiny Vipers. Her songs are stories about choices. She likes to believe that things can be plotted. She likes to believe in planning and in decision making, but she also reveres the unknown, the unknowable. Take, for instance, the song “Swastika” from Hands Across the Void, her acoustic/goth debut album.
Stripped of its cultural and historical implications—which do not, of
course, begin and end with a mustached madman—the swastika can be seen as a series of choices made along a path: a right turn here, a long straightaway there, another turn, a dead-end. Stripped of its hammered and humming guitar strings, Tiny Vipers’ “Swastika” can be understood as a series of “if/then” statements plucked from the source code of just about any life. Close to eleven minutes long and wholly complete in three distinct parts, the track begins by asking, “If I would let you into my heart/would you thank the Lord/would you tear it apart?” Later, as the lines ask you to consider fever, violence, God, and more—as well as the intended and unintended consequences of these—you know what Fortino knows: there is never just one choice; there is always more than one path. And no matter if you think you know just what you’re getting yourself into, chances are you don’t.
All of Hands Across the Void contains that contradiction. It is the product of many years worth of neo-psych/neu-industrial song-crafting, yet the mood of it was made complete by the track “Forest on Fire,” which was completely improvised in the studio. It was meticulously premeditated as a non-traditional acoustic work, but the unlikely last minute discovery of an abandoned vintage Oberheim Two-Voice synthesizer distinguishes it. It’s empty, spare, and minimal—except where the nuanced, abstract noise implies that someone is on the other side, listening to you listen. The record was created by Fortino alone, but it couldn’t have been done without Red Room engineer Chris Common’s vintage microphones and analog heart, nor without Ben Cissner, who adds post-folk fingering to “On This Side” and “The Downward.” Fortino never spent a minute receiving formal guitar instruction, but her intricate, progressive patterns sound like the work of someone who learned the rules in order to forsake them.