When J. Lynch made the decision to digitise his late grandfather’s collection of cassette tapes, he cannot have imagined the journey they were about to take him on. Filled with home-recorded spirituals and spoken word commentary, the tapes shone light on a man whose enthusiasm for religious expression was matched only by a preoccupation with the manner in which the administration of his favourite songs to worshippers had impacted religious thought down the years. His grandfather was much more than an amateur crooner; he was a meditative student whose insight, committed to tape in secret, provided unique and intriguing new angles on his own and others’ relationships with their faith. Enlightened, Lynch formed an idea.
A lecturer by day, Lynch – real name Johnny Lamb – has been releasing under the Thirty Pounds of Bone moniker for some years, receiving mainstream attention for his off-kilter take on English folk music. In recent years, the inclusion of synthesizers in the mix increased and eventually led to his J. Lynch side hustle wherein samplers and all manner of synths take centre stage – with source material as rich and strange as his grandad’s to hand, he identified the perfect opportunity to create the project’s most fully-realised statement thus far. The Tender Appropriation, released earlier this month by nascent UK label Difficult Art and Music, is the result of a collaboration from – at least in part – beyond the grave. Whether J. Lynch’s grandfather ever intended for his music and musings to see the light of day or not, Lynch felt they must at least be celebrated. Determined to create an aural portrait of the man that at once captured the hiss and fuzz of his favoured broadcast medium and the weird allure of hearing what was – ostensibly – a man, alone, talking to a machine about the socioreligious influence of his favourite hymns.
Although the album’s title hints at an amount of discomfort as to whether such personal artefacts should be mined for the pleasure of strangers, it also makes clear it was done with the utmost care and respect. That said, there’s a surprising amount of noise allowed to permeate the fuzzed-out and bleached snippets of vocal input from the source tapes. This isn’t an especially “tender” album in a sonic sense: by heightening the grit and warp of the original chrome and applying myriad drones and skittish tones of his own, Lynch has created a chopped-up, deep and often haunting parallel soundworld populated by sombre ghosts whose unflappable faith permits them to connect and come through whenever the correct signal is offered up.
In that respect, The Tender Appropriation is absolutely a two-way street, never better demonstrated than on “The Wanderer,” which, having tuned into grandpa’s wavelength, begins to pull and stretch at him as though it were possible to haul him through the wormhole. I was put in mind of the scenes from Twin Peaks: The Return (another Lynch with an interest in the transportive properties of electricity) in which Dale Cooper is sucked through time and space via a wall socket. Like Coop, J. Lynch’s grandfather now finds himself reincarnated in a strange and unfamiliar place filled with rushing static and throbbing bass; like Dougie Jones, he comes through in instalments, never quite the fully recognisable package. This ritual sensation – the idea that Lynch is attempting to communicate directly with the voice on the tapes – is consolidated by the dark, doomy closer “And Home.” Opening with a cold, deep rumble, it wavers and gulps as disembodied chants and choral clips attempt to break through.
The experience of listening to The Tender Appropriation is how I imagine wearing a God Helmet might feel – an exhilarating rush through the complex visions of the bicameral mind in pursuit of momentous connections. Some posit the ancient Greeks were able to commune directly with their gods and muses in a similar manner; that their poems and epics were related to them for transcription via the “command hallucinations” we now recognise as a symptom of schizophrenia. Viewed through this lens, what Lynch has committed to tape is the highest tribute possible to his late grandfather. By connecting with him on this level, by affectionately “appropriating” his words and thoughts and conserving them in this way, he’s positioned his grandfather among the legends, forever present in the ether to call upon for wisdom and inspiration.