Review by Thom Jurek- All Music Guide
Between 1997 and 2004,made a handful of small recordings -- , , (with ), -- that stood outside virtually every scene and genre. These were elegant, poetic chamber pieces that captured various states of the human heart, whether in passion, delusion or somewhere in between. This was music that struggled to come together, and was held together musically while it lyrically fell apart, albeit as gracefully as a tragic character in a '60s French film would find his world collapsing around him. Like and , didn't even consider what was going on around him. All of his music seemed to tunnel inside and bring out whatever was there, the pearls of wisdom or simply the blood, sand, dark matter to be found in the marrow. This series of albums culminated with 2004's brilliant collection of off-the wire pop songs . On , moves into a new phase. Working with and , keeps a largely acoustic vibe, but he's tossed the tight structures, languid, decadent textures, and airless spaces aside in favor of wide-open spaces that accent a kind of tribalism and willingness to let the elements themselves have a say in his proceedings. One track, in fact, "Soul Boys/Hard Legends" was field recorded in a dark, cold Wisconsin forest at night. And there's a vibe here that feels free, cast off, if a bit sadder and more paranoid.
's poetic lyrics cannot be denied, but this set's reliance on deep sounding percussion, repetitive melodic -- or more monochromatic -- fixtures such as a guitar strumming a single chord for long periods of time, atmospheric intrusions, and loose adherence to musical time gives the entire proceeding a kind of unhinged feel. While the opening cut possesses more beauty than anything he's ever released, with its brushed acoustic guitars, hand percussions and near samba tempo, sings: "It's unlikely that you will remember/The text that reflected on you/I'm coming to grips with your mirror lips/I can read all about me on you...Looking glass vacuum conditions/The questions I'm dying to ask/The lips can't accuse/They'll cut open themselves/The face can't agree it's a mask/You're standing behind every doorway/Absorbing the neighbor's distress/The writing's reversed, the story's perverse/The finale's a stain on your dress..." All the while congas, vibes and crash cymbals pick up steam as the guitars are all but drowned out and 's voice barely rises above the din, though he's struggling to, he's right up against it; his anguished words bring out tensions in the music that it tries to transcend. All the percussion serves to move the narrative to its rather disturbing conclusion. This is a love song, but one from the other side of loss and memory. 's trying to climb out of his own lyric tropes but they hypnotize him through the music. They are both stuck in a dance that has no real end. It never really began, either, it articulated itself in the middle of the scandalous truth: it is obsession painted as longing. At over eight minutes, it sets the tone for a remarkable, but truly uncomfortable recording. Five of the seven tunes here are over eight minutes, with the longest ("Henry vs. Miller") clocks in at over eleven.
Monotonous (as in hypnotic) guitar chords usher in "Son of Empty Sam," a dark and tense tale about a man so drenched by fear he has to make the claim "I cut down all my friends/To see where I might lie/On simple blades of unlit truth/The truth will bleed you dry." Electric guitars and a big, deep shuffling tom tom pulse the steady, strident bassline assings, keeping his voice just on the sane side of total panic. In many ways, this track, nearly ten minutes in length, is reprised near the end of the set in another mammoth drum and vibes workout with loose-stringed guitars in "The Son of the Empty Sequel." Rather than a droning, chaotic acoustic exercise in tension, this is the "party version." It plays as nearly as long, but the movement of the electric band offers a different shade on the lyrics in the sense that one is given the impression that the protagonist has crossed over. The party is in the acceptance of the other side of the sanity divide. The drums slip time, the vibes play through the beat, and the guitars play a swampy shuffle that resembles some kind of drunken rockabilly as 's piano prattles in an out of tune vamp. "Every Ghost Has an Orchestra" is introduced with multiple layers of strummed 12-string guitars. There is some high pitched sound just under them that feels brittle and uneasy, but then 's words are anything but welcoming; he's speaking from the place of the damned and finds a perverse humor in the acceptance of his place. But he offers his tragic wisdom to another, someone known, who cannot accept his/hers. The words read like , speaking as a ghost to a future one: there is no escape. On , , with help from and the Kinsellas, has reinvented himself once more without betraying his gift for the poetry of loss and oblivion that has been at the heart of his best material. The sound is rawer, it's earthier, it's literally gone. This is a man with a hellhound on his trail, which he looks back at almost tenderly. There is a monotony in this music that will drive some mad, but then, that's the point. It's tribal, but it's a tribe of one, wailing in the desolation and warbling his hard discovered truths into the void of silence, and it's deafening. Like Georges Bataille and , this is a music that comes from the outside and projects even further, even as it comes echoing back to him at twice the volume. This is the spiritual side of the darkness, and it is as romantic and true as anything he has written and recorded before, but it comes from the cave of a Wildman. Lucky for us, that Wildman possesses a language in sound and tongue that speech cannot hold hostage or deny. Welcome to the valley of the hunted. Highly recommended.