Of all the Chicago musicians who’ve packed their bags to live, well, anywhere but here, Emily Cross is among those I miss the most. I fell in love with her group Cross Record shortly before she and her husband, Dan Duszynski (who’s also in the band), took off for Austin in 2013. That year’s full-length, Be Good, remains a go-to when I need a calming fix to guide me through piles of work that make me tense or when I just need to feel less glum—or even when I want to cozy up to unpleasant emotions and experience them to the fullest.
Cross threads together ambient, drone, folk, and intimate acoustic pop, and her voice is mystical and magnetic. The one Cross Record show I caught before they left, a full-band performance at Township, included a wispy rendition of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” that captured the haunting power of the original without disturbing the set’s mellow vibe.
Last week Ba Da Bing! Records released Cross Record’s Wabi-Sabi, which is as immersive and feathery as Be Good. It’s hypnotic enough that I’ve sometimes had trouble figuring out how long I’ve been listening to it or what song I’m hearing—and I’ve listened to Wabi-Sabi at least once a day for the past week. But I do have a few favorites, and today’s 12 O’Clock Track is the darkly enchanting “Steady Waves,” which my colleague Kevin Warwick recently picked for In Rotation.
The song is the longest on Wabi-Sabi, and Cross Record approach its heavy, ominous harmonies with patience. “Steady Waves” lands like a cartoon anvil when its electric-guitar melody lumbers in for the second time and Cross’s otherworldly, multilayered vocals cry out, but it takes its time getting to that point. And as one part of the whole of Wabi-Sabi, it’s even stronger. No wonder Swans percussionist Thor Harris pitched in on the album. Stream “Steady Waves” below.