Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Heavy Ghost, by DM Stith


1 Isaac's Song 1:38
2 Pity Dance 4:21
3 Creekmouth 4:10
4 Pigs 4:54
5 Spirit Parade 2:23
6 BMB 2:43
7 Thanksgiving Moon 3:59
8 Fire of Birds 5:13
9 Morning Glory Cloud 3:56
10 GMS 2:35
11 Braid of Voices 5:26
12 Wig 2:35
How many things?
How many things can I say to you?
And expect shock-horror, shock-horror, shock-horror, hallelujah
To descend again in sweet oblation
Your God's a lion, recently fed, drowsy
And the body, the body, the body, the body, the body, it waits for obliteration

I'm not very good at reviewing at the best of times, but I've just encountered an album that leaves me speechless and wordless. Where the hell has this guy come from?

Baroque pop nerds, and Shara Worden fans will know the name, Bring me the Workhorse was recorded on his laptop, and if you own the album you'll see him listed in the credits. Ok, so he's on the fringe of the Sufjan Asthmatic Brooklyn posse. Perhaps you won't be surprised to learn that he comes from a musical (and churchy) family. He's musical. That much is clear. VERY musical. So the folks at Asthmatic Kitty asked him to make an album... and here it is. Possibly the most astonishing debut album I've ever heard.

It starts with an austere somewhat classical clash of piano and voice. It's harsh, confrontational, and says this album demands your attention. Put it on, and listen, damn you! So Isaac's Song, which is very much the prelude rather than a song, soon gives way to Pity Dance a tense and eerie waltz-time tune (the album's lead single), led by a picked/strummed classical guitar and one of the most effortless and effective tenor/falsetto voices I've heard since Jeff Buckley. The layering of concert-grand, electronics, electric guitar, harmonies, hand-claps sets the theme of what is to come: Lush, dark, dramatic, chilling, intriguing, never a moment when it's less than interesting.

The drama continues with Creekmouth. This song consolidates the soundscape, tribal rhythms replacing the concert piano. The ensemble voices are present again, very much the signature feature of this album. Pigs moves things along, by now you should be familiar with the complex and entrancing world of Stith. The multi-tracked background vocals are amazing.

If you find Animal Collective fine in theory but not in practice, perhaps you should try Spirit Parade a rhythmic drama, not for casual listening! After barely two minutes it yields to the gentle vocal piano-basedBMB. Bass clarinets chime in beautifully after the first verse, and a shimming string quartet adds further lustre. Then, it's as if nothing else can be said, the song rapidly dissolves into chordal shifts and dissonance.

Stith's understated but accomplished guitar appears again in Thanksgiving Moon, augmented by a meticulously charted horn section and marimba. The tune is impressive, carried by a scintillating background chorus.

Fire of Birds contains the most uplifting chorus, although I find it a little pedestrian and repetitive. "We danced like we were all on fire." goes the refrain.

Morning Glory Cloud is as close as Stith comes to a guitar and vocal style, and he transcends the form with a captivating 3/4 rhythm. This track seems to have a part-two piano section which tonally hovers in the Supertramp/Steely Dan realm for a few moments.

GMS is a Sufjaneque piano interlude, think Redmond.

Braid of Voices is one of the album's big hitters. A big, dramatic and melancholy tune...
from the back of my head tied to the back of my head tied
to the back of my head tied...
a braid of voices: david, david

Those last lines, saying his own name are chilling.

Anyone who has ever been to a classical concert will recognise the opening of Wig as Marla Hansen's viola tunes up. It's a meditative drone, and a perfect ending.

In summary, I cannot recommend this album highly enough, particularly for Sufjan fans impatiently waiting for his next installment. Buy it!

ps... and David, if you read this... nice booklet, I get the joke! Please, please, please get some signed prints to sell at your gigs, I'll be at the Dublin date.

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