Upstate Beat: The exquisite hurt of JS Terry’s art-folk

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There’s a heartbreaking, poetic essay that accompanies “And You Loom Over Me Like a Mountain,” the new album by Upstate singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist J.S. Terry. It begins, “I awoke to find that you were gone,” but even if he hadn’t written a word of it, you can still feel the pain of loss all over the album.

The music he’s made here with friends like Wesley Heaton (from the Clemson band Daddy’s Beemer) and Jackson Wise (of Apricot Blush) is at once achingly sad and artistically breathtaking. Terry’s mournful voice radiates a sense of wounded confession, which makes the beauty of his music that much more visceral.

It’s a sort of demented style of art-folk, with angular vocal harmonies, with sudden shifts in tone, with bursts of musical madness that leap out of placid acoustic meditation, with nerve-shattering electric guitar noise and orchestral grandeur. The music here doesn’t really resemble much else, and that’s exactly how Terry planned it.

“In my head, I’d never really heard anything like the record I wanted to make,” Terry says.

Luckily Terry had a collaborator in Heaton that he could express the inexpressible to, even if it sometimes sounded odd.

“I had to explain how I wanted the record to be to Wesley, and there were times where I probably sounded like an insane person,” Terry says.

Instead, what Terry created was a sort of trip through his own personal looking glass,  a swirling cloudburst of kaleidoscopic music that’s just as expressive as his lyrics, almost all of which deal with loss.

“I was losing people, either through death or them just not being in my life anymore,” Terry says. “I was losing people who were huge parts of my life. I lost a great friend to a car accident, my grandfather died of a heart attack, I just lost so many people in my life. So I really wanted the first half of the album to have a lot of feelings of isolation and loneliness.”

It’s only after an ethereal, atmospheric interlude at the halfway point that the sun begins to break through, and the music takes on a brighter feel. There’s a sweeping, epic soundscape (“Weak Eyes”), a ragged acoustic singalong (“The Night Before — Presli’s Lullaby”), and an emotional anthem (“We Run Loose Amongst the Trees, the Sun Rises”) that ends the album on a note of hope.

While it’s a moving experience, the album is also one that is so layered and intricately arranged that it’s not easy to imagine Terry and his friends re-creating it live. But ultimately, he’s fine with that.

“I view these songs as works of art in some ways,” he says. “I’m not trying to come off as pretentious, but an artist isn’t supposed to paint the same painting twice.”

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