Review Summary: bittersweet-tooth
It feels cheap to initiate this conversation by telling you Golden Calf
gets by on an implacable quality – so I apologise with the entire weight of my heart – but, really, it does. Dancing Devil
dissolves its own hook in a bath of reverb and indecision, yet still remains engaging, and Subtle Sadness
is almost too
subtle. The allure is there, it’s just that half the time I can’t tell where it’s coming from.
The structure here, too, feels like an afterthought until it doesn’t. Refrains are the only element keeping the record from slipping into a half-asleep set of promising ideas; the “don’t you blame it on me” in Psychotic Opera
is a kind of chord progression in itself, like it was the first phrase written for the album and everything else is just a variation thereof – twisted and bent to meet a different hole in the wall.
These points - the bumps in the road, the sudden bursts of lucidity – stand out here more than any other record I’ve heard this year, or indeed in recent memory. I like the idea that every song here blooms from within a single motif (though some may be less immediately perceptible than others) because it undergirds the link between music and lyric. ”Help me help you”
Judd Hancock sings in Creepin’
(an introduction that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Modest Mouse record; give me a Good News…
or Lonesome Crowded West
) and it feels like, somehow, the tumbling beat and stabbed synth progression is pulling the muse and the musician into the same space – a sort of kind and gentle magnetism locking things into a rhythm.
And when London Van Rooy murmurs “I see trouble” in Subtle Sadness
, he means it. Washed-out backing vocals denote a sense of isolation – a centrepiece here, but used consistently elsewhere, and its these touches of intangibility that glow different hues depending on the songs they find themselves in.
Small Leaks…, to me, have always been about nostalgia, though it only ever creeps in underneath muted examinations of mental health and people trying to find stillness in chaos. There’s a wistfulness here – imbued accidentally somewhere between writing and being put to tape, and it shifts into focus while the patient waltz of the piano in Drug Lord
, well…waltzes, or as the vocal samples in Creepin’
sing out like they don’t know the words they’re actually singing. But Hancock definitely does; hindsight to him isn’t so much a vessel for regret as it is a means of owning mistakes like they’re an integral part of his person – if he could retrace his steps, he’d look over his fuck-ups with a smile.
– the final track – is both a recognition of what has been and a mantra for what will
be. The refrain ”I’m better now”
was, aptly, improvised in its original iteration. So the delivery grows more confident, comes in to its own, as the song progresses – like the music itself (courtesy of a jittery snare and a dance-y synth), and it reflects the sort of optimism found on the underside of a rock. The song is sweet in a way that makes me feel as though I’m watching a quiet but important moment happen from a distance, like witnessing someone see colour for the first time: here is a turning point retrospect will celebrate without reserve or melancholy.
Which, coincidentally, is how I listen to this album.