Thursday, 29 May 2008

A Grave Is A Grim Horse & The Wake

Goddamn excited for these albums. These men can do no wrong. Below taken from the NEUROT website.

Perhaps the history of the song is innate within us. At least that's what we might glean from Steve Von Till's third Neurot Recordings solo outing A Grave Is A Grim Horse. Intertwined with interpretations of songs by Nick Drake, Townes Van Zant, Mickey Newberry and Lyle Lovett, Von Till's powerful yet subtly graceful originals merge with a lexicon that manifests as something beyond signature, something beyond the concept of persona that popular culture has repeatedly sold us over the past 50 years. Where his previous releases showed reverence for folk music forms of the past, A Grave Is A Grim Horse peers directly inward, drawing from this history of song and earnestly embracing the need we all share to etch our mark upon the artifacts that will ultimately survive us.

Listening to the album, there's a troubling theme that reveals itself only when we're not seeking it. It tells us that we are nothing more than part of the sum of an elusive whole, but sometimes the patterns that define us can be harnessed, as they are here. And, what's most striking about the album is that Von Till's originals are so immediately captivating and threadbare that they seem more familiar upon first listen than the works of the time-honored songwriters to whom he pays tribute. Songs like the title track and "Looking For Dry Land" show Von Till coming into his own as a composer and arranger, perfectly adorning songs with flourishes of swooping strings, pedal steel, organ, et al. There's a somber restraint throughout, allowing the plaintive melodies to elevate each song beneath Von Till's breathy whisper that's reminiscent of similarly raspy, whiskey-throttled voices of Mark Lanegan and Michael Gira.

Steve Von Till is most widely recognized as vocalist and guitarist in Bay Area heavy post-psychedelic punk legends Neurosis. But, the breadth of his talents and interests reaching far beyond that band's thunderous intensity have been well established over the course of related projects like the experimental offshoot Tribes of Neurot, psych-drone band Harvestman and acoustic guitar based solo releases As The Crow Flies (2000) and If I Should Fall To the Field (2002). Von Till's intense obsession with ancestry and many things ancient is deeply ingrained in all his work, but none more than within his solo recordings. His first two albums focused intently upon sounds and stories of ages past, eloquently serving to reconnect with forgotten mythologies and long-buried verse. While the same reverence remains on A Grave Is A Grim Horse, it is also Von Till's most personal and confident effort to date. Having traded city life for a rural existence in the open skies, wilderness and dense forests of Northern Idaho, the songwriter's dedication to these transcendent themes seem all the more focused and equally freed from contemporary trappings.

The album opens with the parched weight of the title track, as the singer mournfully strums a bleary twanging guitar line, yearning for a departed elder, singing, "what the dead reveal to the living/ My blanket can't keep out this cold/ A grave is a grim horse to ride." The last line poignantly punctuated by a loud, chiming guitar line drenched in reverb. "Clothes of Sand" is a reinterpretation of a rare Nick Drake song, unreleased in his lifetime, that Von Till makes his own by fitting its claustrophobic candor with a smudged, fatalistic sounding string accompaniment. Elsewhere, "Valley of the Moon" is a deeply impassioned account that seems both a chronicle of the singer's own pilgrimage in anticipation of catastrophes to come as an echo of those who'd previously endured similar hardships. While the song sounds wholly autobiographical, it is inspired by the Jack London book of the same name that eerily parallels Von Till's own exodus from city life. "Looking For Dry Land" is a moving attempt to reconnect to that very humanity that has long since departed. The finality of album closer "Gravity" is incredibly moving. "What's done is done/ What's gone is gone" Von Till sings seemingly simultaneously to bid farewell to a past, a loved one...perhaps even all of us.

It's a resignation, just as the title suggests, echoing that of an old Irish limerick of the grim horse that delivers us to whatever may lie beyond this life. And, at the same time, it's an immense release to realize that we've only played a temporary host to this virus of song. A Grave Is A Grim Horse is a beautiful vessel to that end.


In James Joyce's Dublin the streets inhale and exhale an Irishness that is so fundamentally elemental that it's more a part of the landscape than the actual landscape which is to say: his books are more real than the real space they describe. And so it is with SCOTT KELLY, great guitar griot and founder of NEUROSIS [see below], and his Wake. Or THE WAKE, to be precise. Its reality supersedes the place, the space and the particulars that gave birth to it. Mixing imagery that borders on a bold and stark contemplation of the limits of our earthly existence via our failed loves, efforts, conceits and even our less than noble other failures [blissfully unspecified and probably unnecessary to HAVE them specified: if you're ALIVE the blanks are easy enough to fill in], THE WAKE with its lion-in-the-winter woe wrenches the almost inexpressibly sad into seven songs that sound like what you hear when you're just about to not hear anything anymore.

"The weather never changes in my world." – Kelly

And with the band that gave birth to him, the name and game transformed while you watch, if you've been watching, from 1985 to now and right on through to the rest of forever: Neurosis, a 5-piece projectile that despite the accolades has not managed to have anybody get it right yet about why they are great, good or as interesting as they are.

You see Neurosis, despite all the chatter about "heavy metal" this and "doom-crunch" that, lay a serious and earnest claim to being standard bearers for the most significant, but as-of-yet-unnamed plot of real estate yet: fucking musical art. And in this instance artistry. Twenty-three years of deep shit involvement with everybody from Steve Albini to Jarboe, 10 albums, even more than that when you factor in 7 inches, DVDs, "official" bootlegs, side projects and more shows than the average music fan has even ever seen has crystallized Neurosis into a starkly effective delivery vehicle for the impending end times.

In an age when music has become Kleenex, there is occasionally that which transcends commodity and Neurosis is it. Weaving earth-based imagery with blood-based realities Neurosis may go on being misunderstood, or understood for the wrong reasons, or misunderstood for the right ones but they will never be lost on ME, at least. For me Neurosis is the sound of man struggling with the gods. A good fight if there ever was one.

Goddamned right.

With an acoustic guitar and a croon that crams the lilt, lift and longing of several lives well lived into 5-some-odd minutes of every song Scott Kelly's record would not only not have been possible at any other point in either his life, or ours for that matter, than now, it also seems to suggest the shape of beyond-now: thin and on fire.

Enjoy it. Time is short.

--Eugene S. Robinson/


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home