Review Summary: A different image of the South.Deep Dark South
, the debut solo album from Bendrix Littleton (real name: Bennet Littlejohn), has potential to be very, very boring. He creates a unique bond between country and lo-fi, with not-quite-sung, not-quite-whispered vocals that are mostly backed by some acoustic guitar, synth arrangements, and fuzzy guitar that mimics a watered-down shoegaze. The entire album is a low-energy affair, with the vocal delivery never changing, the tempo never really changing, and every song giving off the same “laissez-faire depression” vibe. However, Littleton manages to power through and put the album on the right side of captivating, largely due to the emotional weight it carries and some clever production tricks that would typically go entirely unnoticed.
There’s nothing on Deep Dark South
that hasn’t been discussed before - Addiction and alcoholism, heartbreak, death, helplessness, etc. This isn’t meant to dampen the weight of these topics, but songs about them are easy to come by, especially in country music. Littlejohn even says himself on his Bandcamp that “It’s well-trod ground, but I'd rather write what feels genuine rather than something foreign for the sake of novelty.” And each of these topics certainly feel genuine coming from the artistry of Littlejohn. He can sing basic lines like “If I spent my whole damn life / Living with half the light / You put off in your life / I’d die happy.”
on “Clark” and have it carry extra emotional weight, even if it isn’t sung with any additional emphasis. The lack of emphasis and variety in vocals actually works incredibly well in creating the sense of loneliness that exists throughout the whole record. You can close your eyes and picture yourself alone on a front porch gazing into the vast expanse of the stars as the words “I’ve seen heaven / It was red wine on ice”
pass by during the title track. The constant tension between peace, loneliness, and the other emotions haunting Littlejohn makes Deep Dark South
a gripping listen, and this tension wouldn’t exist if more frills and flourishes existed. Deep Dark South
doesn’t take up any more space than it needs to. These compositions appear simple at first, but Littlejohn knows precisely where to add additional accompaniment to ensure that emotional beats are hit.
Part of that is due to clever editing by Littlejohn. Most tracks on the album were ran through a Tascam four track cassette recorder, speeding them up and raising the pitch ever so slightly. Not only does this put the album at a crisp 28 minutes, it also sharpens the album without sacrificing artist integrity. The outro at the end of the title track would have likely ruined much of the pacing if it remained at its original speed, while the instrumental track “Bud Light Flows Like Water” would have overstayed its welcome. Standout track “Daylight Curls”, a track that is equal amounts love song and anxious reckoning with alcohol abuse, would have likely lost the magic that comes from the twinkling of its guitar line, ending with those guitars becoming almost sinister as they grow and drown out Littleton’s voice. The one song that seems to not get this sped-up treatment is “Wine”, where Littleton’s true baritone breaks through and, when mixed with a steady drumbeat and electric guitar, provides a needed change in sound in the penultimate track.
Deep Dark South
is equal parts gentle, dreamlike, and dark. If this balance didn’t exist, the album likely would fail and fall into the trap of being described as “boring”. Instead, these three descriptors weave an intricate dance around the simplicity of Littlejohn’s compositions and lyrics, making it an inviting listen that can create a pleasant background sound that, when focused on, becomes so much more. Deep Dark South
shows that simple doesn’t need to mean boring, and that simple can certainly be deceptive.