Eric Terino – Innovations of Grave Perversity

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The delicate, almost Victorian vibe I get from the chamber-pop Eric has created brings to mind PJ Harvey’s haunting White Chalk. Both projects are boosted by the artist’s use of their hushed head voice. They also share themes of death and trauma in similar ways. Terino’s is much fuller with its use of orchestral backing. It also tells an overall story. My only complaint is the lack of vocal harmonies that could give more depth and color to some of the songs. It’s dense but thought-provoking.

Originally written by Zack Clemons-Sullivan for Z-side’s Music Reviews (READ HERE)

In this Z-side’s Music Reviews republication, Zack Clemons-Sullivan looks at Innovations of Grave Perversity, the third album from chamber pop/alternative folk artist Eric Terino, released March 11, 2022 on Perpetual Doom.


New England native Eric Terino reached back to his visual arts background for his third album, Innovations of Grave Perversity. Eric used references such as Andrew Wyeth paintings and Françoise Hardy’s book “The Despair of Monkeys and Other Trifles,” among other sources to craft the world that he presents in his latest release. There is an underlying sense of despair that runs this transitional landscape, which he discusses more in his conversation with The Big Takeover:

“The goal I set when writing is to make the personal as universal as possible. So yeah, these songs are incredibly close to me, and they’re more autobiographical than anything I’ve written before, which is saying a lot. I think the difference is that in the past I’ve sort of filtered my own life through a lens of ‘characters’ if you know what I mean. The characters in those songs are all… well, for the most part, they’re me or people from my life, but they’re dressed up a bit… That was the key to making this album, renouncing damnation and moving from a place of despondency to a place of hope. This is why I structured it as a journey from winter (beginning with ‘Felt’) to the edge of spring (‘I Didn’t Live There’).”

All of this is painted in the heavy gloss of chamber pop varnish that makes everything feel like we’re peering into a man’s personal life from the distant past.

We open the album with Terino’s voice on “Felt.” This is accompanied by the autumnal orchestration that adds a real fragility to his need to feel the void of his loneliness. Eric’s words paint a man in the throws of depression around how his life has ended and how unfulfilled he has been from the lovers he has found. His hopes to feel whole in his solitude still remain empty without the right man by his side, “I’ve wished to say/ I found my peace/ in this anonymity,/ but I still pray/ that I don’t die alone/ Alone.” This frail emotional state is only heightened by the image of falling leaves cast by the backing orchestra.

Torture the Dead” has a much colder sensation to it. The organic pluck of Eric’s upright piano paired with the darker hum of cello and French horn cast this soundscape in a slate-toned snowy haze. This gives such an ominous tone to Terino’s waxing on love. Instead of being a healing force, it comes off as a curse that wicks away the life essence of all those bound by their longing: “Love can be so beautiful/ and so sad/ it can kill the dying/ and torture the dead.” In many ways, this treatment feels like being trapped in permafrost, unable to move on from our mental state of yearning.

We continue with the sonic tundra on “Snowfall at Dusk.” The use of harps brings a glittering beauty to this navy blue landscape. I really like the flutes and use of warbling, metallic musical saw bring a kind of mysticism to this piece. Eric’s high, breathy voice carries off like a winter breeze. All of this drifts us back into his memories of discovering his sexuality and the love he so desperately wishes to find again, “A man who lurched through like a saint/ a mouth that tumbled half awake/ a feeling I still conjure now/ In my dreams I still see you around.” Because of its treatment, you feel like you are hearing the tired, pained confessions of an LGBTQ+ man from the turn of the 20th century.

Invocations” adds light to this very cold and blustery realm. Terino’s piano melody here seems to bring the sun back into the once-dark place. I wish his voice had a little more power or dynamics. Its breathy quality has really only remained in one octave throughout this record up to this point. This track seems to continue off the sentiment from the last song. Eric’s character clings desperately to the memory of his lover to conjure back feelings of joy and happiness, “Invocations of dormant empathy/ resurrect the joy you sowed in me/ The papers all read
that you fell asleep in death/ but these assemblies in my head/ belie their every sentiment
.” There is a very literary quality to this piece that I do appreciate.

I am happy to hear a little more dynamics to Eric’s voice on “Boulder.” I wish the doubling on his vocals, which has been so prevalent due to his soft delivery, would give way to more harmonies to give these pieces a little more depth. The song has a little bit of a jazz influence that comes through in the backing upright bass and trumpet structure. I am pleased to hear more strength in Torino’s voice, especially towards the end of the track. Alongside the lasting ghosts of the death of a loved one, Eric adds a pained sense of loss over not starting a family of his own, “Ropes bind me/ to this old house that you left long ago/ If I root into its soil/ will I grow cold, childless, and alone?” His voice swells a bit towards the end, almost as if to curse this depression that has locked him in the past, as he sings, “I’m never leaving this damn house!

An Augury of Hope” has some of the most haunting and antique-sounding qualities. With its fluttering Theremin-like tone, the musical saw brings to mind old black-and-white silent films. Something about this against the strings and Terino’s hushed vocal really work beautifully together here. At this point, the cold despondence seems to thaw as he sees rays of hope.

A feeling of determination has ignited his movement forward: “The nights are still long/ but the snow will withdraw/ in the end.” This optimistic point is welcomed as we begin to escape the winter of our discontent.

The shortest track on this release is the folksy “Body Gets Stoned.” I wish Jolie Holland’s accompanying vocals were deeper than Eric’s. They get a little lost in each other because they are nearly the same octave plane. This feels even more obvious when the other backing vocals come in, and it feels more chaotic than complimentary. There is a darkness to the story. I have a hard time completely wrapping my head around the allegory of this father/son conversation in the song. I get a sense of hopelessness when paired with the chorus, “Everybody gets stoned/ and everyone is dethroned/ Now we have no place to go,/ so let’s all just get stoned.” I connect the least with this track, both sonically and lyrically. If you have any interpretations of the piece, please provide them in the comments.

The final song, “I Didn’t Live There,” was the first song I actually heard off this record. This is the only track to have Eric give a little more depth to his performance with some deeper harmonizing backing vocals. They sound so lovely when blended with the rich, warmth that the strings, woodwinds, and French horn bring to this song. He looks back at his prior relationships with a feeling of bittersweet happiness. His youthful wild days with the man he loved conjures up numerous emotions. We end this project by bidding all this emotion goodbye, “I am only sorting through/ these shards of memory to share/ I really must be going soon./ You know, I never lived there.” It’s a full-circle moment from where we started as we close out this chapter and album.

The delicate, almost Victorian vibe I get from the chamber-pop Eric has created brings to mind PJ Harvey’s haunting White Chalk. Both projects are boosted by the artist’s use of their hushed head voice. They also share themes of death and trauma in similar ways. Terino’s is much fuller with its use of orchestral backing. It also tells an overall story. My only complaint is the lack of vocal harmonies that could give more depth and color to some of the songs. It’s dense but thought-provoking.

The only song I couldn’t connect to was “Body Gets Stoned.” I felt like I was in a world coated in oil paint and dreamed up by a 19th-century author. It’s unlike anything I’ve heard as of late. I love the LGBTQ+ themes that run through this project. In my research on Eric’s visuals for this album, I learned several favorite live concerts and unreleased tracks by the likes of PJ Harvey, Liz Phair, and Alanis Morissette were on his channel from years ago (I send a personal thanks to you, Eric for uploading these hard to find gems). If you are a chamber pop fan, I highly recommend listening to this album. My overall thoughts on Innovations of Grave Perversity:

Loved it: “Torture the Dead,” “Snowfall at Dusk,” “An Augury of Hope,” & “I Didn’t Live There.

Liked it: “Felt,” “Invocations,” “Boulder.

Disliked it: “Body Gets Stoned




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