The prospect of a collaboration between rock titans Chris Connelly and Steve Shelly was scintillating to many when word of their signing with Relapse Records was announced this past winter. The imagined possibilities of the High Confessions, a rare blend of unique talents and decades of experience, made Turning Lead Into Gold with the High Confessions a highlight of the summer release docket for the legions who have followed Connelly and Shelly’s expansive, illustrious careers.
The album’s powerful foreword “Mistaken for Cops” is a raving march, highlighted by Shelly’s unrelenting snare and the jagged, gnawing low ends supplied by Sanford Parker, known for his work with the Illinois metal set Minsk, and Jeremy Lemos of the Chicago avant-garde project White/Light. Connelly’s composed layer of spoken-word dialogue is the track’s centerpiece, the ends of verses dissipating into slowly distorting revolutions that yield to yowling guitar phrases. His unmistakable poetic cache is on full display: “Certainty and purpose/Contract like eyeballs in the sun/The bullets fly back to the gun.”
While the track creates the impression that a somewhat sequenced, narrative record might unveil itself, “Mistaken for Cops” and the album’s final track, “Chlorine and Crystal,” are the group’s only forays into anything resembling rock convention. The two songs bookend three lengthy and disparate pieces that foray from experimental to industrial and psychedelic realms and back again, each nearing an adventurous, occasionally arduous but constantly interesting 10 minutes in length. “The Listener” is a slanting, slowly progressing lilt; with duel vocal tracks anchored by peals of low-end piano chords, the track wobbles like a street corner creep. Shelly’s brilliance as a drummer appears in full during the midpoint of “Dead Tenements,” where he commands the kit with force, vividly displaying a penchant for thunderously rounded, tom drum-rooted cadence. It’s a percussive fulsomeness unfortunately obscured all too often in his two-plus decades with the guitar-centric Sonic Youth. The drums also button up the aforementioned “Chlorine and Crystal,” their ascending presence of near-equal expressive importance to the track as Connelly’s monotone bawls.
Turning Lead Into Gold is not a collection of musical selections for disparate survey, but a work to be experienced in a single, uninterrupted sequence for full appreciation of its breadth, which, for fans of these four already widely known artists, is fully worthy of its anticipation.