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Thorns All Over

by Jay Vilnai

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The Lake 05:45
I used to love the lake just there 
Beyond the crooked pines. 
Its rocky shore, its sunlit glare 
 The days beside it, mine. They told me not to go with him. 
They told me not to fall
. But if you saw the eyes on him, 
 You’d hear their siren call. He took me to the lake one night, 
The moon transfixed in place. 
His voice so soft I thought I might 
Be bold and touch his face. I floated then, so wild and free
. I saw him on the shore. 
His love was there: look, just see! 
 A stone in hand to answer for. The sky closed then above my head
, The waves did gently rock. 
I stopped to kiss the dark lake bed, 
Finally unlocked.
I never met a woman or gun I didn’t love 
 Right at the moment of reflection
 That gleam of the barrel, so reminiscent of 
A certain kind of affection When the two come together, there’s really nothing like it 
 The soft and the cold, the warmth and the pain
 Like the bed of a lake the moon has long lit
 That once felt the wrath of the rain I met a woman with a face like a child 
Her eyes looked down into my soul 
 I wanted to take her down into the wild 
 I wanted to swallow her whole Her tears were like metal, I swear this is true 
 The gun shuddered once in my hand
 I aimed like a bird released into the blue 
That sweet crack like a split wedding band I didn’t have her before, see now this is the thing 
 She wouldn’t be mine otherwise
 The barrel when looked down becomes like a ring 
Like a song we at once recognize
The Forest 04:24
I took her to the dark forest to see if she would light the way Her hair so red as to be in flame
 I wanted to touch it, to hold it for myself
 I followed her fire through the trees She opened a path where there was no path 
She parted trees that grew as one 
I watched her make a home in danger
 But I felt the darkness close around me The night seeped deeper into my veins 
I couldn’t touch her
 But I wanted to touch her
 Wanted to feel that warmth in my hands I reached out to her through the density
 Caught a red curl in my hand
 Felt its bright heat, its soft and tempting promise 
 Enclosed in my cold palm I grasped the wick, meant to snuff the flame 
 She turned to me, the fire in her eyes 
I felt the heat, the light a sharp pain
 I held on until darkness entered her hair She became the forest then, the paths obscured 
 The trees grew denser and the night a weight 
 But I had seen the way, it had been lit
 I lay down beside her, finally warm
Heartbreak 03:26
Well aren’t you a heartbreak there,
 Just standing in the sun
. Your shining hair, your dark gray eyes:
 One look and I am done. I have to have you, can’t you see? 
 There’s nothing to be said.
 But then I see your lover there
. Soon I’ll see her dead. You think you know, ‘cause you’re so smart. 
You think you know my soul., But watch and see, man of my heart
. There’s nothing like control. Well aren’t you a heartbreak there, 
 There’s nothing to be said
. But watch and see, man of my heart
. Soon you’ll see her dead
I tell you: there’s nothing I could have wanted more 
From his heels to the base of his skull 
His face and sweet head like a soft blooming rose 
 While I was all thorns all over, thorns all over We used to walk together, we used to take lingering drives
 Down the cliffs to the sea where the caves filled with the tides
 Wild roses grew up through the sand
 We would walk hand in hand and I would hide my thorns, hide my thorns 

It was no special day, no lingering moon
 The tide was between high and low
 I had heard in the days before 
That he had found a girl with no thorns, no thorns 

I found her down by the sea cave that juts black from the shore 
 She stood watching the waves, face tipped just so in 
the gleam
 I pictured her with him, not a thorn between them 
I knelt to the sand, closed my hand ‘round a rose branch
 I tore it from the sand; it was woody and paled
 I caught her fair throat from behind
 The thorns painted her flesh 
She grasped at the rose 
I held on like a drowning thing
 Until she could wash out to sea 
Embedded with thorns So now I walk with him hand and hand down the shore
 And I coil the stems where he cannot see
 I look at his sweet throat and imagine studding there 
Thorns, thorns like sparks of light on the waves
Take me through the night we met
 The rain on the leaves and a slow mist rising
 The moon a cat’s eye opening through the dark clouds 
 Your smile like a beacon on a distant shore
 I walked toward you like a soul possessed 
Here was the love I always sought
 But you turned to me as a cloud crossed the moon 
 And I saw there was no room in your heart 
 Take me through that night again
 Do you remember what I said to you
 When all was possibility and hope
 Do you remember my hands on your throat
 Take me through it 
Take me through you
 The night we met lasted my lifetime
 You finally swam toward me
 We met, we met, we met


"One of this year’s most haunting and strangest records... In fact, it could be the most lurid, Lynchian indie classical album ever made." - New York Music Daily selection on the 50 best albums of 2019

Washed-out guitars, mangled percussion, out-of-tune pianos and disembodied vocals teetering on the edge of atonality are the vehicle for these texts of obsession, love, loss and mania, voices of victims and perpetuators, women and men driven mad and crossing the line.

"a macabre storytelling feast for those with an appreciation for the little bit odd." - Divide and Conquer

A collaboration with poet Rachel Abramowitz, Thorns All Over features musical settings of contemporary murder ballads. The texts play off the folk tradition and augment it with modern language and psychological insight while the music similarly takes the relatively simple structure of the ballad and layers it with modern harmony, rhythm and timbre.

Vilnai uses a wide variety of acoustic and electronic instruments, augmented by modern production techniques to create music that straddles the line between pop and chamber, traditional and avant-garde. His experience in contemporary chamber and various folk traditions joins his love for pop songwriting and the result are odd songs with a unique sonic landscape, prickly harmonies and fluid forms. Vilnai has recruited a murderer's row (ha!) of talent from NYC's improvised, indie and chamber music scenes for Thorns All Over, in addition to himself on vocals, guitar and other instruments.

"The macabre final diptych (...) has Oscar Noriega’s moody clarinet rising over creepy, lingering belltones, minimalist guitar lurking in the background, descending to a glacially waltzing dirge." - New York Music Daily's selection on the 100 best songs of 2019


released June 6, 2019

Music by Jay (Yair) Vilnai

Text by Rachel Abramowitz

Performed by Vilnai with:
Laura Brenneman
Ben Holmes
Quince Marcum
Oscar Noriega
Rueben Radding
Jean Rohe
Katie Scheele
Skye Steele
David Wechsler

Recorded and mixed by Vilnai
Mastered by Scott Hull at Masterdisk

Illustration by Mary Symczak
Photography by Kate Attardo


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Jay Vilnai New York

"the missing link between Rasputina and Bernard Herrmann"

A composer and performer with versatile abilities, Vilnai’s music draws on everything from Balkan music, blues, a plethora of jazz styles and Western concert music. Whether writing for chamber ensembles, performing, or producing his own recordings, his music deals with ritual and social activity, folk music elements and a sense of song. ... more

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