Factory Sessions EP

21st century deathmonger rides the stars to nowhere...

Maybe I'm demented or simply the byproduct of a Prozac scarred brain, but I have this huge soft spot in my heart for achingly tired, sad, personal, "folk" songs in the tradition of Leonard Cohen, Woody Guthrie, Dylan, and their more recent incarnations: Bonnie Prince Billy, Iron & Wine, Mark Eitzel, and the early work of (the now tragically late) Elliot Smith. The last decade or so has given us a handful of such artists, hammering out their own aesthetic vision within the confines of simple, heartfelt, personal, songs. Though much attention is given to those who rise to a modicum of recognition within the world of mainstream music, there are literally thousands of similar artists and albums floating around the interweb, hoping only for a likeminded soul to stumble upon them, listen, and understand. Notable among these, is unknown singer/songwriter Russell David, and his wonderful, self-produced, lo-fi album "Songs For When You Think You Made a Mistake" (2002). I stumbled on it last year, completely by accident, and it quickly became one of my favorite web-finds of the year.

With "Factory Sessions EP," David has produced a jarring follow-up, offering what amounts to a stylistic and emotional continuation on a theme: loss, regret, longing, self-loathing, all in various shades and modes of expression. This isn't a bad thing. Not at all. In fact, it's one of the most beautiful things I've heard in a long time. Brave, honest, pure, Russell David is truly an introspective's introspective. His songs overflow with highly intellectualized romantic connections to the world, endless regret (for his presumably numerous and profound existential mistakes), and an exquisite, unrelenting, black hole of melancholia.

Accordingly, "Factory Sessions EP" bleeds with a beautifully rapturous, stark, stillness. The feeling lingers over the record almost without reprieve - as if 2002's "Mistake" had somehow only been an immature first step, and that deeper resolution was required to really balance the scales - as if David is paying off emotional debt to the subjects of his songs, himself, God, the world itself. And even more, as if the payment could never, ever, possibly be enough. And he knows it.

Songs like, "Ashes", "Love is Always Unrequited," and "Painless" evoke a deeply resigned surrender to the forces of the world, as if the battle is already over and lost - like there never was a chance anyway, and all that's left is to float, and wait for the inevitable spiral toward the end. Particulary potent is the hopeless mantra "There's nowhere to go, it's all over" at the end of "Ashes." David's voice is plaintive, repetitive, without remorse. The words drip from his voice as a cold fact, a vision or memory of what is and has always been plain to see. Silently intimating that there is no change, except for the realization.

Similar, is the beautifully haunting "Bury Me Standing." With a wurlitzer like back drop, David seems to say a final goodbye to someone or something (perhaps Hope itself?), letting it go, and hoping (we assume earnestly) that he/she/it finds truth and peace and "wins" in the coming future without him. This peaceful leaving is at the heart of "Factory Sessions EP." In many ways, it feels like a postcard to the world, from a lost soul, adrift in his own raft of self-imposed emptiness. He longs for the shore, but seems to intuitively understand the tide, pulling him further and further to sea with every passing moment.

But as bleak as this may sound, it's not the whole of David's approach. For there is an astonishing mirror side to his songwriting; a subtle and mysterious underbelly, challenging our preconceptions. Just when we're ready to label him another run-of-the-mill misanthropic nihilist, David subtly turns, showing us that he sits on both sides, and while he clearly feels more comfortable in the world of darkness, he can't quite call it home. In this sense, to hear only the sadness of "Factory Sessions," is to miss the deeper conflict and beauty entirely.

The closing track; the stark, piano-driven, "Horsefeathers," is the philiosophical and emotional highpoint of the album. In sombre, excrucriating, fashion, David sings "No matter how it feels I know love will take me home someday... someday..." A final lyric of hope surrounded by a sea of trouble - the title seemingly mocking itself, sitting in glaring contrast to the literal meaning. It's a gloomy, triumphant, admirably complex, amalgam of feeling and thought. In a world where musicians are busy aligning themselves as sugarcoated sexbot automatons, aimless depressives, or hardened charlatans and cynics, David pulls at the contrasts, and demands that they sit together, chat, have a smoke, and talk about how they really feel.

David doesn't allow simple answers on either side. Hope and hopelessness languish together, holding on for dear life, forgetting their differences, longing only for the warmth that comes from the abandonment of all forms of intellectual separation and distinction. Finally, mysteriously, they meld into one. The magic is that David doesn't force us to believe or see the wonder-working diplomacy he's undertaken. He's quiet about it, letting it sit as an obvious fact of existence that we can just as easily ignore as be moved by. And the songs echo this, in perfect tension, as if David is completely satisfied with being misunderstood, (or perhaps simply sees it as an inevitable reality?). Regardless, David's voice is personal, patient, resolute, and yes - most of all, very, very, sad. He sets the table for the feast of communion, hoping, realizing the impossibility and unlikelihood of actual connection, but keeping the fireplace warm, just in case.

And within all of this, David keeps the faith, boldly embracing sentimentality, hyper-romanticism, and retreating (or breaking through?) to what can only be described as his own parallel universe. As a lifelong depressive, the whole thing rings home to me. Like a nice warm blanket. Such qualities may well feel tedious to more "healthy" listeners, but I, for one, can't get enough.

David Lawnkind