You probably wouldn't associate experimental music with 19th-century popular songs. But Jim Storch (a.k.a. Burnout Warcry) has found a way to marry them in a meaningful release -- a limited-edition CD (50 pressed) called Overcome, which comes packaged in a plain little box.
According to the enclosed booklet, Overcome is a "sound art piece that uses 19th-century tokens of affection to explore the risks and rewards of intimacy." The "sound art" element is somewhat sparse, esoteric and mysterious, similar to Storch's recent live shows: percussive clangor, overdriven noise and occasional harmonica, fed through echoing effects. It's somewhat like a 1980s cassette artist or industrial band (for example, 23 Skiddoo or Metgumbnerbone) or a David Tudor electro-acoustic piece from the '60s.
But where this becomes an arch concept beyond just the texture of the underlying music is when Storch sings, in his own offbeat way, the lyrics of several old-timey songs such as "Beautiful Dreamer" and "Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder," all of which he's printed out carefully in the enclosed "libretto" (making this a mini-noise opera). Though barbershop-quartet fans will certainly take issue with his renditions, the songs' purposes, as Storch explains it, are to evoke the late-20th-century idea of the mixtape -- another token of affection.
Meanwhile, Overcome's status as an objet d'art (sold at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts' shop, as well as at Paul's CDs) is cemented by the inclusion of a lock of Storch's own hair (a typical 19th-century love token); an antebellum love letter between two men; and an old photo of a man kneeling before another man (and apparently being emotionally rejected).
All signs point to Storch's own struggle to come to terms with his sexuality. Meanwhile, the work's homoerotic overtones bear much resemblance -- at least, thematically -- to the conceptual work of activist experimentalists Matmos. (Burnout would be great as an opener for them.) And since I've watched the recent PBS Walt Whitman special, which dealt quite frankly with 19th-century attitudes toward gay male relationships, it's become clear that a project like Storch's is just more evidence that love conquers all -- no matter what the country or historical era.