Hi. It’s Michael Minkoff. I’m one half of Physick—the producer, lyricist, drummer, and sometimes mascot. This is odd for album copy I know, so I’ll just get right into it.
A few months after a number of very generous people successfully Kickstarted the publishing and replication for Death is Their Shepherd (a chamber prog double album with accompanying illustrated short story), I received a series of texts from an acquaintance of mine who had supported the project. I’ll just copy them here verbatim for the sake of transparency:
i supported your Physick project - you sent the album and I downoalded and listened to it
but i am nto sure what to do with it
pls do not be offended
Who knows how many other people have been similarly mystified and just haven’t contacted me about it. I wasn’t and am not offended by this response, though. In the first few drafts of the narrative companion, I had included a detailed prescription for how to interact with Death is Their Shepherd, precisely because I figured most people wouldn’t be sure “what to do with it.” My editor told me the instructions came across as patronizing, so I removed them. I almost regret that now. Aside from how it came across, the prescriptive introduction at least gave the potential audience very specific ways to begin engaging with the project.
I knew that Death is Their Shepherd could eventually pay out massive returns on investment, but I also knew that this odd little project I had spent four years working on could only reward a listener/reader if he or she were able to break through a certain wall concerning it.
And to be frank, I’m not sure how to break through that wall, how long it will take, or even what the wall is. There are a number of things that could be contributing to the wall. Death is Their Shepherd is not a sing-along kind of record. It’s not a feel-good record. It’s not predictable or consistent in writing, production, or tone. It’s not well-polished. It’s really long. It looks like a death metal album, but totally isn’t. There are so many reasons for most people to give up on this project. And I was afraid they would do just that.
Just as an example that perhaps justifies my fears (though too late for me to do anything about them), I’ll tell you another story. Phil Hodges (my composer and multi-instrumentalist friend and the other half of Physick) has a nephew named Jonathan. Jonathan is a wicked smart musical prodigy, and not one who shies away from dense or obscure musical works (seriously, Paganini is one of his favorite violin composers). Jonathan even played a few violin parts for Death is Their Shepherd (that deconstructed violin solo at the end of “We’ve Been Misled” is his).
So there were really no obstacles keeping Jonathan from wanting to appreciate Death is Their Shepherd, and he had every desire to give it a proper chance. Even still, about a month after the album was released, I got this text from him:
Listening to the album for the fifth time: Until just a few moments ago I didn’t much care for Memento Mori -- in fact, I couldn’t stand it. However, whilst listening again on my way back up to Seattle from Portland, that track just kinda fell on top of me. You created a moment where I not only felt your fear, I felt the same fear. Exceptionally real. Well done.
As encouraging as that text was (and it was very encouraging), it also troubled me. “Memento Mori” was the first track written for the album, and it outlines much of how the album unfolds. In other words, it took five listens for an eager, invested, and intelligent listener to finally connect with the emotional and philosophical crux and foundation of Death is Their Shepherd. How could I possibly expect strangers to give this project five whole chances to win them over? That’s not a reasonable expectation at all. I understand that.
So, here I am, sincerely asking your forgiveness for not working harder to make this album accessible. I’m dead serious about this apology. I spent basically all of my labors on this project trying to fold more and more layers of meaning and feeling into it, and at a certain point the thing was totally out of my hands, so I just kept taking it where it wanted to go—deeper and deeper. Then the project sort of closed itself up with me stuck inside of it. I have listened to this thing hundreds of times, and I’m still finding new things in it to discover. But I’m so far gone inside of this process, I don’t really know what to tell someone who is encountering Death is Their Shepherd for the first time.
That’s you, I’m assuming. So, at the risk of sounding patronizing, I want to give you a version of my original instructions—you know, the ones my editor told me to remove. I hope by now you understand my heart on this. I’m merely attempting to give you an entry point:
- Please listen to the album first all the way through. It would be best to think of your first time listening to this like a movie night for your ears. It’s an 81-minute album broken into two parts. If you want to take a break, it would be natural to take one between “What It’s Cost” (the last track of Part I: Memento) and “Precious in the Sight” (the opening track of Part II: Memorial).
- Most people (including myself) prefer listening to it in the darkness and on headphones. This really allows the mind to enter the narrative and emotional space of the record.
- After you have listened through at least once, please read the illustrated short story included in the narrative companion (the hi-res narrative companion file is included in your free NoiseTrade download). Again, if you need one, a natural place to take a break (even for a few days) would be after Part I.
- After reading the short story, listen to the record through again. The connections between the two should start to become more obvious at this point.
If, after going through this cycle, you don’t want to keep engaging with this project, I can’t ask you to invest any more of your time in it. Phil and I regularly doubt whether anything we're working on is worth any of anyone else’s time, so we thank you for any time you’ve already been willing to invest in this. We hope this project gives you many years of returns.
Michael Minkoff (for Physick)
Some things other people have said about Death is Their Shepherd:
I saved my first listen of Death is Their Shepherd for a night drive through West Virginia, and the eerie loneliness and the sense of immediacy and danger I cannot divorce from car rides was precisely in tune with this album about death. . . . It's my favourite project to come out of The Nehemiah Foundation for Cultural Renewal partly due to its intensely evocative mood. The choral pieces are haunting, the single-voice moments familiar in their desperation, and the melodies and rhythms interesting enough that I listened through the entire two disc album a second time before the drive ended. Self-identified as experimental prog/chamber pop, if you're into weird music, I recommend giving this a listen.
– Annalise Wolf
The music is immersive and impeccably arranged. Tracks like the opener, midpoint, and closer (“Hi-Fruktose Noize Sserp,” “Before the Silver Tether Breaks,” and “Waltzing with Woland,” respectively) layer rich textures together without becoming overbearing. Complex tracks like the polyrhythmic “Requiem Shark” contrast the more straightforward approach of songs like “Memento Mori.” The instrumental interludes are delicately spaced to create room for meditative moments. The album’s second suite prominently features a choir, which elevates the whole album to grand heights. . . . It takes a song or two to adapt to Physick’s dense and direct style of writing music and lyrics. However, it begs for another listen by the time the door has closed on the album.
– E. J. Olsen, WE\ARE\MIRRORS
When I was done with the CDs and book, I read my favorite passages to my sister at a favorite coffee shop. In particular, I read the Clock Keeper’s ideas about mortality. He makes light of Zak’s death, saying “Nothing civil ever got so without death” (48). This line was one of my favorites. Even as my sister and I sat comfortably in a clean, polite coffee shop, I recognized death’s role in developing our environment and its unavoidable place in our lives. Everyone dies, and understanding it is vitally important. Thus, books such as Death is their Shepherd will always be significant. As if to prove this point, after I finished reading to my sister, a man I never met before approached my table. Identifying himself as an atheist, he asked me for the name of the book I was holding. “It sounds really interesting,” he reasoned. I told him about the work and explained that I have re-read it several times (including the first eight pages) and highly recommend it. He said he would find a copy. Everyone can relate to death.
– Quenton Frank Brooks