Sunday, May 11, 2014

add 1018 Steve von till

Steve Von Till, vocalist/guitarist for Neurosis, issued two previous solo offerings of quiet, sparse, largely acoustic material: 2000s As the Crow Flies and 2002's If I Should Fall to the Field. Six years later, and two years after Neurosis' masterpiece Given to the Rising, Steve Von Till returns to solo recording on the band's family label Neurot. Those looking for anything drastically different from his previous solo efforts won't find it. This is a brooding, darkly poetic collection of songs that carry within them a deeply idiosyncratic and, some would assert, iconoclastic feel. That said, there is considerable growth here as well. The songs are more nuanced, the disturbing American Gothic songwriting style has filled itself out, images are more subtle, and at the same time more imagistic. Von Till's singing here doesn't rely so much on the half-spoken-half-sung whispers of his earlier albums, but instead has learned to sing softly yet with more power, as if he has more faith in his voice in this setting. The other aspect that was hinted at on If I Should Fall to the Field was his willingness to utilize other textures in his tunes, a method he's all but perfected here. Von Till plays electric and acoustic guitars, strings, pedal steel, a banjo, and even Hammond B-3 and Rhodes piano on a couple of tunes. His voice is up over the instrumental mix, allowing for dynamic changes in temperament and ambience in the sound.
The songs themselves are quite beautiful (though yes, they are as repetitive as those on previous recordings). Check out the haunted love song "Valley of the Moon," where the protagonist changes from the first to the third person, and paints the desert as a final place of rest complete with its heat, dryness, wandering spirits, and vultures seeking sustenance, where the colors all blend into the stark landscape of ruin and death. But in it, the singer refuses to lose his hope, his spirit of his determination to find the place of solace for his beloved and himself.
The Western imagery is pervasive on songs like "Western Son," and the spirit of the loner against the elements -- be they natural, psychological, or spiritual -- runs through this beautiful album. The weave together not a vast atmospheric whole but a place where a story seems to be written and told simultaneously (yes; the songs stand on their own). The opening title track is, in its own way, a manifesto of grim determination and a way of looking at the world through the eyes of history; the history of survival. And the great thing? The protagonist, the teller of this tale, arrives, fully formed, tried by fire, landscape, and rain, and understands the price he paid to find his place in the world. There is great tenderness here as well, especially in "Looking for Dry Land," the only cut here with drums, where the imagery of dryness is actually hoped for amid the other allusions and images in the tune as the skeletal waltz unfolds his prayer, to his own heart, for redemption.
The oddest thing here is the cover of Lyle Lovett's "Promises," which is breezier yet far more taut, as Von Till sounds like the weary voice of an aimless traveler on the West Texas Plain where it never stops blowing. But Von Till's character is far from aimless, and the final track, "Gravity," brings that all back in spades. A Grave Is a Grim Horse is the finest, most deeply conceived and fully realized singer/songwriter effort Von Till has issued yet.


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