In Pitchfork’s review of Pillars & Tongues’ 2010 EP Lay of Pilgrim Park, Jason Crock notes that it’s “difficult to talk about influences or genres” when discussing Pillars & Tongues. Crock mentions that "their antecedents are as modern as drone and as old as early American folk.” Indeed, their influences may be too many and too varied to nail down, but with the band’s 2011 full length The Pass & Crossings, they’ve at least honed those influences a little more. The effect is still tough to define, but that’s often what makes Pillars & Tongues such an exciting band.
They opened their set at saki with a 10-minute-plus drone that aptly set the tone for what has become one of their more characteristic numbers, “Oaky (doting, in late summer).” The song, with its swirling, vaguely call-and-response vocal play oddly conjures the communal feeling of a frontier campfire or religious gathering, while the echo-laden percussion and soft drone show their more modern experimental influences. Lead singer Mark Trecka’s voice unfolds on top of all of this, lending Pillars & Tongues its most distinctive feature. Trecka carries his strong baritone with astonishing command. It fits nicely with the repetitive orchestration of the band, since it manages to float to the top of the mix no matter what. Anything less fluid would be off-putting, but as it stands, everything takes shape.
Pillars & Tongues' songs come off more like impressionist pieces than standard folk songs, but it would be too easy and too convenient to lump them in with the freak-folk crowd. They are much more than that, and I for one can’t wait to hear what they’ll do next. If “Dogs,” “Knifelike”, and “Ships” (the newer songs that they played at saki) are any indication, then we’re all in for a treat!