Music | Singing Sword: Mike Sartain’s past blessedly haunts us. 

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Ten years ago, Mike Sartain was in his early 20s, acting like he was just 13—smashing bottles, breaking instruments and recording fragments of song on a four-track in the old Camelot apartments. If it sounds regal, it wasn’t. But the digs gave Sartain’s budding tracks a solid name: The Camelot Sessions.

“We didn’t think we’d do anything with it,” he says between Sunday breakfast vodka shots. “We were just doing it to dink around, play, layer some tracks and sing, you know, like Simon & Garfunkel. The 4-track was the cutting edge of technology. I printed about 40 albums and gave them away and, originally, there were a whole bunch of rap songs.”

He, perhaps wisely, cut the rap tracks. But the remaining one-minute songs eventually made their way to his brother Will Sartain, another local musician who now co-owns Kilby Court and released The Camelot Sessions on his label, Kilby Records, complete and de-hissed courtesy of Dave Payne.

The album is haunting, experimental, addicting, and it sounds nothing like Sartain’s main band, Starmy, although on occasion they’ve been known to play “September” live.

At first listen, Sessions was just background music until Track 5, “Pose That You Just Died,” a 60-second ditty I had to rewind and give another listen. Then I had to hear it again and again on repeat. How does that line go again?

“Suppose that you just die, delicate and high, would you be content with your winnings spent?”

Beautiful. If only it were longer, as is the case with much of Sessions’ rapid-fire songs. Only two of the 20 tracks are more than three minutes long.

“I’m basically a drummer and got sick of the music I was hearing, so I started writing my own music,” Sartain says. But he didn’t really know how to write proper music, so he customized the process to suit a short attention span.

The album is very lo-fi and simplistically complex—heavily influenced by Elliot Smith’s early recordings, The Beatles and Radiohead’s OK Computer. Devoid of any pop, it could easily fit into any ’60s psychedelic soundtrack with perfect poetry.

“We just wanted to play something, listen to it, and then play it again—and listen to it,” he says. “The lyrics and the melody were super important. We were trying to do something wacky and avant-garde.”

At the time, pop-rock sensation Starmy was in its adolescent stage and known as the Seedlings. And while the band’s sound is decidedly not avant-garde or wacky (check the recent double EP High Horse and Burning Moon, and the forthcoming/hiiiiighly anticipated LP Starmaggedon), The Camelot Sessions hints at what could have been—and what might develop later on.

Mike Sartain CD Release @ The Urban Lounge, 241 S. 500 East, Saturday Sept. 20, 10 p.m.

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