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
"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