Review Summary: Something for nothing.
Ahh, presidential election year.
You know how it goes by now. Every American celebrity unleashes its inner politic as if their opinion matters because of their status; whilst American musicians of all genres unsurprisingly rally their listeners to get behind their candidate of choice. Because it is not mandatory to vote in the United States, the purpose of such rallying appears to be rousing enough interest for those that the celebrity or musician influence to vote and have their say at the ballots. From the “Vote For Change” tour (R.E.M., Springsteen, Bright Eyes) to the Citizen Change “Vote or Die” campaign (Puff Daddy, P. Diddy, Diddy), each politically active muso has their method of conveying their message.
A unique approach to getting the vote out has come from prolific underground singer-songwriter David Debiak, better known as Sleep Station. He has just released his second album of the year, Blood of Our Fathers
online for free. All he asks in return is, nationality and age naturally pending, that you vote in the upcoming election in return for listening. Given that Blood
is a stunning portrayal of classic everyman America, as well as a showcase of some of the best songwriting of recent times, this certainly seems like a more than fair exchange.
Two versions of Sleep Station appear on the record. The first is Debiak on his lonesome, excluding his trusty six-string or piano. Whilst it is certainly easy for these type of acoustic recordings like these to lapse into the generic, Debiak thankfully does not allow this to happen. Opening track “Brothers” perfectly exemplifies the positives of Sleep Station in this form. Over a charming country chord progression, a story of a younger brother watching his elder brother venture into the march of war is unfurled- “You left for the war when I had turned thirteen/I slept with the letters that you would send to me”. The brother dies amidst the battle, and the younger sibling promises to be buried alongside him once his own time comes- “They will put my bones away, and I’ll descend into the earth from which I grew…brother, I’ll be lying next to you”.
Debiak’s rustic, Springsteen-esque vocal gruff emphasises the weary, nostalgic tones of the song’s subject matter, adding a deeply intimate and introspective dimension to the song. Other songs in the same spirit, such as the desperate “Can’t Shake This Town” and the Johnny Cash-flavoured ballad “Where Love Used to Grow”, are great displays of Debiak’s creative, heartfelt approach to the songwriting craft. “Can’t Shake This Town” sees a recollection of escaping a small place by means of enrolment- “I’ve been waiting to drift into the sky until I’m shot down”, the protagonist confesses in the track’s chorus. Meanwhile, “Where Love Used to Grow” is a bittersweet memoir of rehabilitating life for a post-war soldier. Perhaps its closing lyrics are the most heart-rending of the entire record, powerfully describing how living amongst war has haunted him:
I remember at night the cries of an old man, waiting in a cell to die
And I remember the smell and the stains
The look of a face that felt no more pain
I knew there’d be a time when by body was free to go
But I left a lock on the place in my heart where love used to grow
The album also sees Debiak plug in the electric guitar, with a backing band thickening the Sleep Station sound. Whilst the band occasionally hinders the message of the song (the irony of the Nashville-tinged “America” is dawned upon only after a few intent listens), they also strengthen and empower Debiak’s solitary, intimate sound- though not to the point of pomposity. Perhaps the best example of this is where the song is half-and-half: the first section of the song Debiak on his own, followed by full-band accompaniment. This happens in both the piano-lead “Leads Back Home” and the sentimental plea of “Oh Mary”, in turn album highlights that explore the depths of the musical environment that surrounds Debiak’s conceptual, informed and unashamedly political lyrics.
Blood of our Fathers
is a story of family, faith, community, country, patriotism, war and things between people. Like Guthrie, Dylan, Springsteen and even Bragg before him, David Debiak knows all to well the impact of war upon his country. All he is doing is simply reflecting upon, as well as subtly protesting, what his country has become as a result.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This review is dedicated to anyone who has or is currently serving in their country’s defence force overseas, as well as those amongst the Sputnik community who are from the States and legible to vote. Don’t forget to do so tomorrow!