Josh T. Pearson

Round Three.

It was an odd year. With music a less dominant part of my life these days, what I came into contact with tended to be directly related to what I was writing or talking about for DIY or FFS. I heard about a a heap of great albums (I will never tire of great music writing), but the amount of pure listening I did was far than it has been. Which is why, as I sit with headphones over my ears and a full pack of chocolate buttons melting in my mouth, I’m finding it hard to decide. When the albums you’ve loved in a year have been far less listened to, the amount you can critically discern between them is a lot less than it might otherwise have been. But here we go.

Dum Dum Girls – Only In Dreams

After ‘Coming Down’ swept across the blogs, many, notably myself, were somewhat jazzed about the idea of a epic-scale, anthemic gloom-rock approach from the L.A. four-piece. We didn’t get it. What we got was an album that embraced a true idea of evolution in sound – a step along the girl-group, surf-punk, fuzz-friendly Ascent of Man chart if you will. It refined, retuned and ultimately improved in every way on the group’s debut and, with ‘Coming Down’ as centrepiece and ‘Hold Your Hand’ as finale, indicated what the next image of Dum Dum Girls might look like too.

Dum Dum Girls – Coming Down

Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring for my Halo

This was a grower, and by “grower” I mean that I was completely unimpressed, put it aside in some distant corner of my iTunes library, lost the CD copy and forgot it had been released at all. Then, four months later, it was played at work and I realised how brilliant it is. I mean just great. That there is a grower. Mixing experimental ambience with the drive of classic rock, Smoke Ring… is a wonder, a beautiful comedown. The whole thing envelops you like warm rain, Vile’s voice soothing as drums pound and guitars chime all around you. Easy listening in the best possible way.

Kurt Vile – Baby’s Arms

Future of the Left – Polymers are Forever

There are some certitudes in life that we must be aware of. Examples: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction; Alan Rickman is the best; any Future of the Left release will make it onto my end of year list. EP though it may be, this is still one of the best collections of music this year. Maniacally leaping between styles (even within songs) throughout and even more maniacally approaching lyrical output (relationships, Joe Pesci, international relations) this is everything I could want from a FotL release: ferocity, insanity, hilarity.

Future of the Left – Polymers are Forever

Peter Stampfel and Jeffrey Lewis – Come on Board

I promise I’m not being (too) wilfully obscure with this one. Yes, it may only have been available from the pair’s live shows, and yes it might have taken me a month to find the album artwork, but you can find it online. Somewhere. Whatever the difficulties, this is most definitely worth its placing. This the sound of two kindred spirits separated only by their particular decade of musical popularity. Each complements the other’s own brand of weirdness spectacularly, with Stampfel’s gurgling squeals and Lewis’ croaky drawl mixing to make the best set of badly sung anti-folk tales I’ve heard all year.

Peter Stampfel and Jeffrey Lewis – He’s Been Everywhere

The Antlers – Burst Apart

I don’t like this much as Hospice. But that was never really going to happen, was it? Frankly, the best complement I can personally give Burst Apart is that it isn’t Hospice and it still ended up as one of my albums of the year. A definite step away from the “concept album”-as-concept album, The Antlers treated this one as an experiment, simplifying into indie-rock (‘Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out’), playing at being their heroes (the Kid A/Amnesiac-isms of ‘Parentheses’) or messing with new genres (the distorted soul of ‘Putting the Dog to Sleep’) and succeeding at each and every one. This doesn’t need to be Hospice anymore, it’s brilliant in and of itself.

The Antlers – Parentheses

Radiohead – The King of Limbs

I genuinely can’t understand the backlash against this one. I know, I know, I’m a Radiohead douche but seriously, how can this be a bad album? “Not as good as In Rainbows,” fine, but a bad album? Nah. This is complex, beautiful songcraft with a spectacular generic twist halfway through – what introduces itself as a beat-heavy album, some naturalistic iteration of the aforementioned Kid A/Amnesiac era, between ‘Feral’ and ‘Lotus Flower’ becomes a more vocal affair, and with a hilarious non-sequitur punchline for the more desperate of us fanboys (that line in ‘Separator’) to boot. Time will prove people wrong on this one.

Radiohead – Separator

Bill Callahan – Apocalypse

Smog and Bill Callahan have been skirting around the peripheries of my music collection for years now, but have always seemed too revered, and perhaps too obscure, to simply dive into without a useful introduction. How kind of Bill to do that for me. Apocalypse is simultaneously traditional and experimental in its take on country-folk, sounding unmistakenly American, but in a distinctly literary fashion – this is more exploration (hence the experimentation) of a sound rather than a retreading of it. It makes for an album that’s as intriguing for its context as its overt content, and, by association, Callahan’s back catalogue looks just as enticing to me now.

Bill Callahan – Drover

Other Lives – Tamer Animals

There haven’t been many new bands in recent years that have grabbed me, shaken me awake and metaphorically said ‘LISTEN TO HOW AWESOME WE SOUND!’ like Other Lives did for me in 2011. Their music sounds so magnificently grand, so all-encompassing in its earthiness that it seems paradoxically unearthly (captured beautifully in their video for ‘For 12’). Clutching at the heady ambitions of classical music and expressive soundtrack work and roping it together with grounded, traditional folk sounds should simply not be this effortless, but they soar together somewhere in between in wonderful fashion. I need more of this in my life, and quickly at that.

Other Lives – Dark Horse

Timber Timbre – Creep On Creepin’ On

If Kurt Vile was a grower, this was a revelation. I was actively irritated with this album at first. Where were the folk creaks and strains I loved so much from before? Why was Taylor Kirk crooning? And what THE HELL was a saxophone doing there? It can’t be overstated that I’m an idiot. As Kirk himself sings on ‘Black Water’, ‘All I need is some sunshine.’ Once I saw that light, there was no turning back. Timber Timbre’s exercise in creepifying the sounds of old-fashioned pop is remarkable, showing the talent they have for subtly twisting the familiar into unsettling shapes in a completely new way.

Timber Timbre – Woman

Josh T. Pearson – Last of the Country Gentlemen

This started at the top of my list and never left. It’s simply one of the greatest albums I’ve ever heard – and I’ve put enough thought into that to say it without pretence. I could expend mountains of hyperbole to explain that, but since Pearson himself kept it so simple, it would seem false to do so (that and I’ve done it elsewhere). What I will say is that this album can take your breath away, such is the depth of the emotions, it can drain you, such is the starkness of Pearson’s troubles, and it can (if I’m any example) completely affirm any pretentious belief you may have in the transcendent power of music. It may not be straightforwardly enjoyable, but by fuck is it satisfying, beautiful, devastating and incredible.

Josh T. Pearson – Woman, When I’ve Raised Hell…

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Part two of round-up day on MFAGW comes in the form of my Christmas Day show for DIY Radio, a (mercifully for some, I’m sure) mostly presenter-free episode where I played a stream of my favourite Folk Bloke tracks of the year. If nothing else, it’s a bloody good line-up of music – Bill Callahan, Alessi’s Ark, Saintseneca, Rob St. John and, obviously Josh T. Pearson all make appearances. If you want an hour of delightful music to reminisce on, stick it on and lay back.

Josh T. Pearson – Thou Art Loosed!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Oh god, Christmas has begun.

Withered Hand – It’s A Wonderful Lie

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

I’m just going to leave these here. Do with them as you will.

Tenacious D – Double Team (YSI)

Vodpod videos no longer available.

This time I actually have a reason for not posting: I was at End of the Road, which was quite easily the best festival I’ve been to yet. A fantastic lineup, uncrowded, laid-back atmosphere and woods to walk around in. I couldn’t ask for more. But, if you weren’t there, this could all seem self-indulgent, so I’ve got a mini-treat for you. This week’s Folk Bloke was an exercise in excitement for me (it’s pre-recroded) and either consolation, jealousy, irritation or reminiscence for the listeners, given that it’s entirely End of the Road themed. Whoopee!

The Secret Sisters – Tennessee Me (YSI)

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Today, DIY Radio broadcast the first episode of my new weekly show, The Folk Bloke, and that’s what you can see above. If you like the kind of thing I post here, you’re more than likely to approve of the show, so please do listen in. Please? Oh, go on. Please?

Metronomy – Radio Ladio (YSI)

In making the last two years’ end of year lists, it has occurred to me each time that many of the albums I laud are being lauded by me, at least in terms of this blog, for the first time, usually because I’ve written about them elsewhere. So, in a slightly lazy, BUT ALSO PRODUCTIVE AND INFORMATIVE attempt to rectify that, I’m going to start putting up reviews of albums I really like here, after they’ve gone up where they’re supposed to be. To begin with, here’s my review of my favourite album of the year so far, Josh T. Pearson’s spectacular Last of the Country Gentlemen, first published on This Is Fake DIY*:

In today’s fast food music culture, where artists are lauded for quick turnover, surprise releases and pre-sale downloads, it’s rare to see someone taking real time over their music – especially when it’s been quite as long in coming as Josh T. Pearson’s debut album. His first band, Lift To Experience, took five years to release their own debut, 2001’s hugely acclaimed The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads whose Biblical-scale shoegaze impressed the late John Peel so much that he invited them into session no less than three times in five months. But within the same year, Pearson had disbanded the group, and has waited ten years to produce his next full-length record, this time with a far more muted, country-folk aesthetic at its core. It’s a staggering amount of time to take over a single album (and if reports are to be believed, many of the tracks included have been around in one form or another for much of that ten years) but in listening to Last of the Country Gentlemen, it quickly becomes clear that Pearson was made to take his time.

With four of its seven tracks clocking in at over ten minutes long, this album refuses to be hurried, as songs softly mutate and repeat throughout, with guitar sequences reappearing as if they’d never gone at all. Amongst his many obvious musical gifts, Pearson’s greatest is in carrying the listener along, alternating between almost unbearably honest lyrical work and deceptively simple yet rewarding instrumental passages, replete with acoustic guitar that ranges from the most softly plucked to almost devastatingly attacked, often within moments of each other. It’s this ability to manipulate his music, and the listener’s perception of it, which makes Pearson’s debut album quite as phenomenal as it undoubtedly is.

From the tumbling guitar sweeps of opener ‘Thou Art Loosed’, Pearson has you in the palm of his hand for the whole of the next sixty-odd minutes, striving to hear every new strain of the country fiddles that intermittently haunt the whole piece, each change in tone and every stricken lyric. It’s these lyrics that become the most compelling facet though, a tumultuous look into a cracking psyche that’s spilling forth every thought, light or dark, no matter whether or not it seems right or wrong to do so. From tales – and these truly are tales – of the anguish of extra-marital love (in the exquisitely-named ‘Honeymoon is Great, I Wish You Were Her’), alcoholism (“Honestly, why can’t you just let it be, and let me quietly drink myself to sleep” – ‘Woman When I’ve Raised Hell’) and ‘Sorry With A Song’s epic apology letter from a man who always repeats his mistakes, despite his wish not to, each song is a journey through the mind of someone who can’t help but reveal his secrets, even if he doesn’t want to – he himself sings “Don’t ask me what I’m thinking”, and in the circumstances, it seems like a plea, not a warning.

Every song is confessional and almost uncomfortably intimate, like reading someone else’s mail, and it makes for a listening experience that hasn’t been quite so powerfully manifested since the likes of Kid A – this is an album of such profound power and darkness that it becomes hard to listen to, but becomes harder and harder not to throughout. It’s the brief moments of relief that the listener finds themselves clinging to then, relatively short snatches of respite where there appears to be light behind the dark clouds conjured by the rest of the album. Pearson’s whispered admission that “I know it don’t make it right, singing a simple lullaby, but please accept my sorry with a song” is followed by a blissful period of tempered, skipping guitar that never sounds quite upbeat, but holds a sense of  respite somewhere within, finally allowing for a moment to breathe and let it all make sense.

After all of this focus on lyrics, it seems fitting then that Last of the Country Gentlemen can be summed up in its first lines: “Don’t cry for me baby, you’ll learn to live without me/Don’t cry for me baby, I’ll learn to live without you” – the competition between desperate sorrow and ultimate release is never resolved. It’s never clear if the album is one of catharsis or self-immolation for Pearson, and it’s in this indecision that the truth of the work is revealed. The lack of any concrete resolution reflects the endless back-and-forth of a mind wracked by guilt, despair and temptation that equally wants to let go and be at peace and in presenting this, Josh T. Pearson has created an album of genuinely breathtaking emotional heft, and one that dwarfs the ambitions of the many others that have tried to achieve much the same thing in the ten years it took to reach us. Astounding.

*I originally gave this a 10/10 by the way, not sure why that was changed.

Josh T. Pearson – Woman When I’ve Raised Hell (YSI)