Review Summary: Experimental folk that uncovers the holiness of everyday existence.
“One hundred religious persons knit into a unity by careful organization do not constitute a church any more than eleven dead men make a football team. The first requisite is life, always.
- A.W. Tozer, Christian author and pastor
The status of religion for the modern music lover is quite precarious. The freedom and openness we find in our pastime feels worlds apart from the restrictions of religious dogma. And yet, the redemptive power of music is aptly described as a holy experience. Reconciling this difference has been an endeavor for many indie artists – perhaps the most seminal moment being Jeff Mangum straining his vocal cords with “I love you Jesus Christ!” At a mewithoutYou show, you’ll find a crowd of disbelievers united in spiritual communion. Disrupting our preconceived notions about belief is one of the most novel experiences to be had with music.
Forgive me if I’m imparting lofty goals on The First Requisite Is Life
. Self-released on Bandcamp, this intimate work by Timothy Charles has an unassuming heart. It begins with dream state approximations of Bon Iver songs before unspooling into psych-folk that flows like the ego does on a summer day. It is the most deeply moving album I’ve heard all year, a disarray of chords and falsettos that welcome you in despite the avant leanings. An intriguing personal narrative guides this stream, which I’ll explore while attempting to maintain the mystery of the work.
Listening to The First Requisite Is Life
is like meandering through a city and absorbing all the life around you. There’s a cloudy, hallucinogenic quality – an awareness that life can branch in infinite directions coupled with the ache of being stuck on a fixed route. Lush strums and playful sax bops (courtesy of Ethan James) animate the scene of a man drifting through reality, weighed down by grief and depression. Charles makes extensive use of spoken word, and they are often the most remarkable parts of the album. Musings on abuse and loss are granted equal weight to sung passages. The effect is disarming, leaving a lump in your throat at unexpected moments.
Despite being steeped in religious imagery, the lyrics are reticent about belief in the traditional sense. They are presented with an impressionistic touch, exploring notions of faith and acceptance from an outsider view (as the cover art suggests). This is in large part due to the artist’s gay identity and the church’s ensuing rejection. I feel the urge to understate this detail because Charles handles it with grace and subtlety. It informs the animating struggle, a quest to find "holiness" outside of religious upbringing. Nature, music, the everyday sublime… these forces are sought out to lift the veil on depression and reorient the self. That drive for connection is what makes the existentialism oddly comforting: no matter how deep Charles falls into his mental chasms, you trust that he’ll chart his way out.
My first listen of the record was the most impactful, and I’ve been trying to parse why since. The fumbled chords, scrappy singing, and open disarray triggered a visceral response in my brain; the willingness to exist as an open wound, stating the truth of your pain. The ramshackle beauty of this album might not find an audience, but I have faith that Charles will keep sharing these stories, if only for himself.