Cairns is tough to pin down. Since starting as the solo endeavor of Milwaukee multi-instrumentalist John Larkin about five years ago, the project has evolved from its stripped-down “bedroom recording” roots to become a truly remarkable full-fledged band. In recent years, Cairns has gradually been adding contributors and—in pre-pandemic times—playing out with more frequency as the band’s once-minimalist sound grew and developed in kind with its lineup.
In 2018, that cast of collaborators made their presence known on parts of the band’s Cluttered Sky EP and throughout the entirety of Entanglement, a full-length Cairns released later that same year. This spring, Larkin and company quietly chased those releases when they put out a collection of lo-fi recordings in the form of its boundary-nudging empty space // sacred place release (and donated the proceeds from the album’s sales to Walnut Way and Leaders Igniting Transformation).
While that release would be more than enough—both in terms of song quantity and song quality—to hold most projects over for the year, it’s clear Cairns isn’t like most bands. When empty space // sacred place was put out, the band already had another EP’s worth of material in its back pocket. This Friday, that EP—This Is Also The Place—will finally see the light of day.
The five-song release finds Larkin getting back to basics in some respects, as he nods to early Cairns output with self-recorded songs that feature his nylon-string acoustic guitar as the primary instrumental vehicle. Unlike previous efforts, Larkin employs his vocals a little more often than on album’s past. He tells Milwaukee Record the EP “is about moving and getting stuck, isolation and meditation, but mostly the illusion of permanence and how we cope with it.” The deconstructed melodies and musicianship—when combined with synthesized audio, subtle-yet-significant vocal accents by Caley Conway and Eddie Chapman, as well as electric guitar and clarinet courtesy of Eli Smith—result in a quintet of altogether outstanding recordings that range from ambient and beautiful to blurred and, at times, even borderline brooding.
Cairns’ This Is Also The Place will be available for digital download (which comes with a lyric/photo zine made by local poet and designer Chelsea Tadeyeske) on Bandcamp starting Friday, October 23. An experimental music-focused tape label called Art Of The Uncarved Block will also release a small run of EPs on cassette. In lieu of a traditional release show, Larkin will perform the EP in its entirety on the Cairns Instagram page at 6 p.m. on Saturday, October 24. While you wait to order and/or tune in, you can listen to The Is Also The Place below.