Something about the songs on Tiny Vipers' Hands Across the Void seem strangely familiar--maybe it's the minor-key intonations that folk musicians have used for centuries to evoke feelings of insurmountable desolation. Maybe it's the weirdly popular layering of nice and funky-sounding vocals à la Joanna Newsom. Or maybe it's just that Jesy Fortino's guitar melodies don't veer too far away from the sort of things one plays when one is, say, 14 and just learning to play guitar. These kinds of melodies have their place--they can be droning, hypnotic, even cathartic in their unflinching simplicity, especially when repeated endlessly, and Hands Across the Void rests comfortably in these endlessly repeating melodic loops.
The album does have moments of heightened intensity, like the feedback-lush end of "Forest on Fire." The 10-minute-long "Swastika" is either fascinating or horrific in its exploration of folk song artistry--it's hard to decide. It's also hard to listen to Hands Across the Void without sinking into those whirlpools of melody, which makes it bad for road trips and great for breakups or drugs.
One finds oneself captivated by the sustain on Fortino's acoustic guitar--the notes fade into the silence between them with unfailing precision, never wavering between pitches, never delving into unpleasant twang. Hands Across the Void is what new strings sound like played with determination and feeling; it's a testament to sparseness, simplicity and good, old-fashioned woe.