Thursday, June 28, 2018

Back on the Trane: 'The Lost Album' and more

Here is my Rolling Stone review of Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album, a newly released John Coltrane session from 1963 that's officially out Friday.

I'll admit, maybe in line with the Kamasi situation, that I felt a little hyperbole fatigue kicking in once the advance buzz started kicking in for this one. (I found this Destination Out tweet to be extremely apt.) The historical-recordings industry knows no modesty, especially when it comes to Great Men. And what we have here, as Nate Chinen points out in his deep, detailed analysis, probably isn't anything so deliberate as a carefully plotted album — or some instant classic tied up in a bow.

And yet, it is Coltrane in the studio in 1963 with the Classic Quartet. The more I listen to this, the more it seems unlike, in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways, what's already out there. The frequent piano-lessness is one signal feature; the overall looseness of the arrangements is another. You really can hear the band trying out very different ideas from take to take.

Best of, it just got me re-immersed in the Coltrane thing in general. I hadn't had a phase in a while. But I've derived so much enjoyment from simply throwing on Coltrane or Crescent or Live at Birdland, to name a few that date from around the time of The Lost Album. This one isn't going to replace any of those, but it does slot in very nicely beside them.

Also, I re-reread, for maybe the third time, Ben Ratliff's Coltrane book (first discussed in this space in 2007). It gets better every time. It's such a learned yet readable and engaging tour through a daunting body of work — and through the strange afterlife of an icon, which can sometimes seem entirely divorced from the work itself. And the more I read it, the more I pick on the deep curiosity that inspired it. These interrelated questions of: How did Trane accomplish so much in such a short period of time? And why? What exactly was he after? And why does he still loom so large?

In a way, the excitement that has greeted The Lost Album is only further proof of some of the ideas Ben explores in that book. No other jazz musician inspires that kind of fervor, and it isn't just some vague notion of icon-hood. The music really is that special. Once you're in it, it's a lifelong thing.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

"You have to create yourself a new language": Gorguts' 'Obscura' at 20

It was well received, but it was a very small audience. It took a while. And people were like, 'What the fuck is this?' Now, when I say 'Obscura,' everybody has their fist in the air, it’s like, 'Yeah, bring it on!' [laughs]. It's time, you know? It just happens with time. The sound was able to find its right place. —Gorguts' Luc Lemay on the band's 1998 album Obscura
It just keeps coming back to Obscura. During the past 10/15 years, as I've moved through interlocking communities of forward-thinking New York musicians (metal, jazz and beyond), both as a writer and as a player, the third album by Quebecois death-metal band Gorguts — released 20 years ago today — has become sort of gold standard for stubborn individuality, for the idea of placing absolute trust in one's muse, even if it leads you to a place of what seems at first like pure insanity.

As Lemay explains in the above interview with Metal Assault (well worth your time in full), the album came about through a process of sort of forced experimentation, with the band deliberately walling itself off from its trusty methods of writing and composing.

['Obscura'] came about because we made a very clear decision, everybody together. The three writers in the band [Lemay, his late fellow guitarist/vocalist "Big" Steeve Hurdle and bassist Steve Cloutier], of course the drummer included, Steve MacDonald, was writing with us in the arrangement department and everything. [Note: MacDonald helped compose 'Obscura,' but it was actually Patrick Robert who played drums on the album.] But the thing is, we did some kind of [manifesto] together. This was right after 'Erosion' [a.k.a. the band's more-conventional 1993 album 'The Erosion of Sanity'], so we said okay, writing a new record: no fast-picking riff is going to be accepted in the music, no scat beat, which ‘Erosion’ is all about. So none of those mentioned were going to be allowed, everything else, but none of those other ones. And then we’ll start from there, and see what happens. The band also decided to do both vocals as well, so those were the main lines.
I believe no tremolo picking as well, as you mentioned in an interview a long time ago.
Exactly! Good point, that was another one.

Why were those ‘limits’ set in place?
Because, if you stay in your comfort zone, it takes forever just to incorporate a new thing in your sound. But if you force yourself not to use everything that you’re comfortable with, then you have to create yourself a new language that you’re happy with. So it forces you to explore, to touch the instrument differently, and approach the music differently as well, to get new sounds out of it.
The results speak for themselves. The album is so perverse, so chaotic and discordant, yet at the same time so logical and deliberate within the parameters it sets for itself, that it achieves sort of strange counter-intuitive serenity.

This is in some ways an ascetic sound, the product of walling one's self off from the world outside and creating a new, insular one within. But it's also the sound of pure, unfettered discovery, of a kind of seething, ecstatic creativity. (During an intense period of Gorguts immersion, I once described the record as " of the most pungently progressive albums ever made, in or out of metal. Obscura didn't just register as technical; it sounded downright excruciating, as if its shuddering blastbeats, doleful bellows, and deliriously inventive guitarwork were being torn straight from the chests of its makers.")

As fans know, Gorguts are in the midst of a glorious renaissance, which kicked off with 2013's outstanding Colored Sands and continued with 2016's equally impressive Pleiades' Dust. The gradually snowballing influence of Obscura helped set the stage for this moment, when one of extreme metal's most challenging bands could also be one of its most beloved.

In honor of 20 years of Obscura, here are a few thoughts on the record drawn from interviews in my Heavy Metal Bebop series, which began as the result of seeing pianist Craig Taborn (who would eventually meet and collaborate with Steeve Hurdle) at a Gorguts show.

Ben Monder (2017)

How would you describe what's happening on Obscura? I'm not a guitar player, so I can't necessarily verbalize it?

It's not about guitar at all. There's nothing really virtuosic on that. It's just like, there are sounds that he was getting — I don't know technically what you would even call it, like pick-scraping type things. I had never heard that before. It was more about the mystery of what was happening. I had never heard those elements put together in that way before. You know, when you first heard a record like that, you just don't know what's going on; there are all these novel ideas swimming around and colliding. And it almost seems like it shouldn't even work, but it's perfect. And it's also very integrated. It doesn't sound clever or contrived; it sounds like this integrated language that is just natural, but it's the result of all these technical elements. I like that aspect in music where it's mysterious and sounds correct and yet you have no idea how or why it works. And of course it has the darkness, and it's got "Earthly Love" with the violin. Where else is a death-metal song going to have a prominent violin feature that sounds perfect, you know? That's one of my top five metal records.

Matt Mitchell (2016)

Man, Obscura came on the other day. I've had that album for almost 20 years, since it came out, and it struck me how totally [crazy] that album is. It's so bizarre. [Laughs] It's really out there, man. And I basically live off of weird music, and that's, like, still... even in metal, there's nothing that quite goes that far.

Craig Taborn (2011)

There are a few metal albums that really intrigue me, and Obscura was one because it kind of came out of nowhere for me. That was such a weird little blip when it came out. Nobody knew what it was. It was too out. A lot of metal guys hated it. It was all wrong. The doom thing wasn’t big, and it had these things that were super-slow, and everybody hated that. Not everybody – obviously people liked it. But it was so dissonant and so dense; it was like Beefheart-metal.

Dan Weiss and I also talked about Gorguts extensively, during the first HMB interview back in 2011. He has some fascinating things to say about the drumming on the band's masterful fourth album From Wisdom to Hate.


I'd like to thank Chuck Stern, Tim Byrnes and Colin Marston (now a member of Gorguts!), fellow travelers in the NYC scene, for introducing me to Obscura sometime in the early 2000s. I had heard The Erosion of Sanity in the '90s, but it didn't really stick. When I caught up and heard how completely the band had transformed itself, I was stunned and amazed.

Goodbye, Vinnie Paul

Never gonna be another groove like Vinnie Paul's. His playing style + Terry Date's production = a crucial element of a new metal paradigm for the '90s. These Pantera records just slice right through you and Vinnie's kicks are the razor's edge. So long to a legend.

I contributed a bit to the in-progress Rolling Stone obit. Dan Epstein's piece on the band's influence and legacy is well worth you time.

Postscript: I listened to Far Beyond Driven the day after the news broke and honestly was in disbelief over how vibrant it still sounds, particularly the first four tracks, which in my opinion are flawless. I'm not sure that we've seen that level of talent, passion, recklessness, arrogance (the kind that can make for great metal) and songwriting smarts bundled into one band since.

Friday, June 22, 2018

The Music vs. the Moment: On "Criticism" and attempting to get a clear look at Kamasi Washington's 'Heaven and Earth'

I have written before on this blog about my ambivalence toward that thing we call Criticism, and counting myself among those people we call Critics. Those mixed feeling have been swirling around again in light of the new Kamasi Washington album, Heaven and Earth, which I reviewed for Rolling Stone.

If you follow Jazz or simply Music Discourse on the Internet, you will already know that this record is having one hell of a Moment, much as its predecessor, a highly acclaimed triple album called The Epic, did back in 2015. I did not engage deeply with that album at that time, for a variety of reasons, the main one being that it just didn't draw me in after several listens.

This sort of tepid response put me in the minority among my fellow writers-about-jazz, or writers-about-music period. The album was showered with effusive praise, and suddenly Kamasi Washington became something more than just an artist with a new album; he seemed to transform into a Moment, a condition that's exceedingly rare in jazz.

With jazz, I'm used to sort of moving through the music in an intuitive way, hearing as much as I can, reserving special attention for the music that really grabs me, and setting aside the rest, not in a dismissive kind of way but in a straightforward there-are-only-so-many-hours-in-the-day one. Looking back at my best-jazz-of-2015 ballot (scroll down alphabetically here), I see some records I've gone back to here and there since (Jack DeJohnette's Made in Chicago; Henry Threadgill's In for a Penny, in for a Pound; The Bad Plus Joshua Redman) and some that, frankly, I forgot even existed. So it is with listmaking, and with music — we in this general line of work hear a lot of albums every year, and very few of them, as much as they might impress us at the time, really end up finding a home in our collections and/our brains/hearts the way our Actual Favorite Music does. That's just the way things go.

I've gotten a bit off track here, but what I mean to say, really, is that, of the hundreds (thousands?) of jazz records that came out that year, it just so happened that the album that had become a Moment, or was part of a larger one that orbited around Kendrick Lamar's excellent To Pimp a Butterfly, wasn't one that ended up meaning a whole lot to me. And that, in the end, should be no big whoop. As is almost always the case, I felt very little need to weigh in either way: I am vastly more comfortable and content writing about things I like, or, ideally, love, than about things I dislike or feel iffy about. The world does not need another "takedown" or even meh opinion, at least from me.

But this year, I find myself in a different position — frankly one I feel very privileged to be in — namely that I'm writing about jazz (and other music too, I should add) regularly for the publication where I work, which is Rolling Stone, a publication where reviews have been part of the lifeblood of the magazine/website for decades now. Criticism is still alive and well at RS, which is honestly great. But since I am in some respect The Jazz Guy there at this moment in time, or at least A Jazz Guy, and since RS focuses on artists who are impacting the mainstream of American culture in some way, it was perhaps inevitable that at some point I would no longer have the luxury of taking a polite "no comment" stance on artist like Kamasi Washington.

So I took on the assignment. And... what do you know? I liked some parts of album a whole lot! I liked other parts less. And I attempted to explain why, yielding what some might call a Mixed Review — interestingly, according to Metacritic the only less-than-effusively-positive review the album has received thus far. (And to be very clear, my review did not even remotely resemble any kind of "pan"; to give just one example, I labeled the album's strongest moments "truly transcendent.") Here's a sampling of what others had to say:

"A series of near-overwhelming musical epiphanies." —Mojo

"Despite the sheer weight of material on offer you’ll struggle to find an inch of fat." —Record Collector

"An exceptional record from one of the music world's brightest talents. " —No Ripcord
In short, rapture. Such that, a review like mine, which is generally positive but not breathlessly so, becomes almost irrelevant. Due to the phenomenon of Kamasi, his harmony with the zeitgeist, his having become a Moment, there is basically only one way to receive him now: as a kind of savior figure (a concept that Ted Gioia's review grapples with a bit).

Listen, I get it. I can easily see how the sheer scale and ambition of his art — and the flashes of true brilliance therein, as well as the fact that regardless of quality, pretty much everything on his records just sounds really damn good — could inspire such fervor. It's just that it leaves one in a somewhat strange position if one happens to feel not exactly that level of ecstatic enthusiasm for what he does. If you're not a zealous booster, in other words, you can start to feel like a hater. That's the weird, unnatural, frankly suspect binary condition that these Moments tend to create. You're either riding on the bandwagon, or you're standing to the side with your arms crossed. (There's an obvious political dimension here too: Obviously the overall message and intent of Kamasi's music, and by extension, Kendrick's and this entire wave of new black art, is immensely appealing and energizing and impactful, especially given the State of Things, and in expressing even the slightest reservations about the actual music, or its reception, one would never want to be seen as taking some kind of fucked-up Wrong Side of History stance.) Again, I reiterate: I got a lot of joy out of this record. But simply because I didn't feel compelled to anoint it as some borderline-holy instant classic, I worry that I'm tsk-tsk-ing or being the insufferable "Actually..." guy. (There's also the question of what to do with, you know, the fact of having loved / written about jazz since well before Kamasi came along, and finding a way to bring that knowledge to the table without being all Comic Book Store Guy about it.)

For many writers, feeling this way is probably not something they'd even mind; it might even be something they'd relish or take pride in. But I guess so much of this just has to do with my own attitude toward what this profession / calling / what have you. To me, it's simply, writing-about-music is simply a channel for my often overwhelming, insatiable enthusiasm for the topic, period. I have very little interest or investment in some kind detached idea of "where music is going." If music doesn't excite me, I tend to ignore it, or to engage with it only insofar as it affects my day job.

But I realize that sometimes, now being one of them, when an artist associated with a genre that one happens to specialize in attains a certain level of acclaim and/or media saturation, the Critic's role is to Weigh In. And honestly, in this case, especially since I didn't really comment publicly on the Kamasi-wave the first time around, a part of me was happy to share my thoughts.

But, maybe because of the principle outlined above, the fact that I'm a writer guided ultimately by passion, and not by some abstract Critical Impulse, I in some ways had a better time reading coverage of the new Kamasi album by other writers who seemed to enjoy it more I did (writers who I respect, and who had very insightful things to say about the album, among them Marcus J. Moore, Phil Freeman, Nate Chinen and Giovanni Russonello) than I did writing about it myself. In terms of my own review, I couldn't help but feel that I was writing more about, or reacting more to, the Moment than the music. Which I think is weird and probably somewhat unhealthy.

But let's be real for a second: How, exactly, are you supposed to strip that all away? Especially when one of the points I was making — this idea that Kamasi's Kendrick / Flying Lotus affiliations seem to somehow obscure what his own music actually sounds like (an idea that the ever-sharp Seth Colter Walls was onto right from the get-go), and the fact that the one name on his résumé that seems so fundamental to understanding where he's coming from, Gerald Wilson, is the one that never seems to get mentioned — seems to me like a pretty fundamental matter to clear up before giving the music a clear, fair listen. In other words, there's the Moment, and all these sort of buzzwords and received notions that build up around a given artist, and then there's the Music, and the two can start to seem hopelessly intertwined to the point that, especially on a tight deadline, you're not even sure which you're writing about anymore.

Am I overthinking all this? Of course! But that's because this whole business, this idea of somehow objectively evaluating music, rather than simply putting into words why I love it, or telling an artist's story using their words and mine, feels fundamentally odd to me. I will probably never be comfortable with this concept, that I have any kind of authority to "judge" music. Have I spent a good portion of my life listening to and learning about music? Absolutely. Does that qualify me to write and speak about it with some authority? Sure. But that is not the same as some sort of credential of correctness. I would never, ever want a review published under my name to read as anything other than my opinion, inherently compromised by tastes, knowledge gaps, time constraints and a million other factors that can come between a listener and a clear view of the music in question.

I remember tying myself in knots a bit when Frank Ocean's Channel Orange came out. The situation wasn't identical but it was somewhat similar: I had turned in a mixed first-day review, and then the raves started pouring in. And either because I felt like I had rushed my process, or felt self-conscious that I was seemingly the only one who was feeling anything other than breathless enthusiasm for the album, I actually revised my review in time for the TONY print edition and presented a more positive take. Am I feeling like I would do that here given the chance? Probably not. A record review is simply a snapshot of a moment in time; in this case my Kamasi review was the clearest, most honest reflection of my feelings about the album (and, yes, to some degree, my feelings about the Moment) that I could pull together at that juncture. Maybe I'll spend more time with the record and start to dig it a whole lot more — possibly because I won't have the Critical Task hanging over my head, a circumstance that can be a real vibe-killer, especially if you're not simply being carried along by native enthusiasm for the topic at hand — or less; or maybe I'll continue to dig the aspects of it that I already think are great; or maybe I won't return to it all and will instead continue to fixate on some of the records, jazz or otherwise, that have already emerged, for me, as strong year-end-list contenders, one of them being the Bad Plus' Never Stop II.

Whatever the case, I'm pretty sure the world will keep turning! So much of the above is really just an attempt to work through, or even just air, these notions for my own benefit, a kind of dialogue with myself about what it is that I do, a weighing of the enormous privilege of writing about music in a professional capacity versus the occasional difficulties that can arise when what you do for the love of it mingles with what you do for a living. Make no mistake, I couldn't be happier with where I'm at as regards to any of it. I'm just looking for a way to navigate these Moments that feels honest and wholesome, for a way to say what it is that I think, and to engage with others' opinions or with an overall Critical Consensus, without coming across as bitter or close-minded. I'm aware that it's all a work in progress, and honestly I'm glad that there are no easy answers here.

And now, I think I'll shut up and throw on my favorite track from Heaven and Earth, "The Space Travelers Lullaby," because that shit is just plain gorgeous...

Still I'm sworn: Morbid Angel's 'Covenant' at 25

 Here's my 25th-anniversay tribute to my favorite metal album of all time. Paradoxically, this "41-minute blast of white-hot satanic rage" still fills me with immense joy. I'm not sure I've ever been so instantly frightened, awestruck and captivated by music as when I first heard "Rapture" on Headbanger's Ball back in 1993. (The eerily evocative video by Tony Kunewalder certainly played into that reaction.) This was some kind of new frontier of extremity that I had been searching for without even realizing it. I listened to the album twice through in recent days, and it has lost none of its savage majesty.

As I discuss in the piece, there is one line on the album that could be termed problematic, to say the least. The following is hopefully self-evident, but my praise of the album as an artistic statement should not be taken as a blanket endorsement of the perspective(s) that may have played into its creation. I take away from Covenant what I take away from most heavy music I love: an idea of pushing one's self toward some new threshold of intensity. Speaking strictly in those terms, I still haven't heard much else that can rival it.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Enormity of song: 40 Watt Sun live at Saint Vitus

Saint Vitus, Brooklyn's temple of metal, was about as sparsely populated as I've seen it for last night's 40 Watt Sun show. I arrived with some friends a little before the band went on, and ran into some other friends, and the size of the crowd suggested a chill weeknight show rather than Saturday prime time. But to judge by the reactions at the end of the concert — in terms of, if I may, impact per capita — this was one of the more powerful performances I've attended there, or anywhere else, in recent memory.

If you're not familiar with 40 Watt Sun, a) please stop reading this immediately and listen to their latest album, 2016's absolutely exquisite Wider Than the Sky (see here for more on that one). But b) for description's sake, I'd characterize their music as a sort of poetic, gradually unfolding dirge rock. It seems relevant to note that the project is vestigially related to metal in that the singer/songwriter/bandleader, Patrick Walker, formerly fronted (and sometimes still does) Warning, a band that shares certain traits with 40 Watt Sun but had a more overtly "heavy" presentation.

But in another sense, it seems absurd, reductive, crass to associate this band with any genre, especially one as codified, plotted and ultra-taxonomied as metal. As last night's relatively brief, utterly extraordinary concert was nearing its end, I found a frustration welling up within me that things had to be this way. Why can't songs just be songs? Why is music, or any art, fragmented in such a way that music that I would consider to be objectively beautiful and moving has to be somehow stunted in terms of audience, lumped in with a genre where it will forever be an alternative to something (i.e., not your usual "doom metal," etc.)? Rather than considered simply in terms of what it has to offer, which is a vast expanse of feeling and transportive resonance.

Walker has aired similar frustrations. Consider this exchange, from a 2011 Scene Point Blank interview with Cheryl:

SPB: You were saying that Codeine were a bridge to other types of music - they're kind of lo fi...

Patrick: I don't know what the hell that is. I've heard that thrown around - lo fi, slowcore, sadcore, post rock. All these fucking terms thrown around. It's just nonsense, it's all music. It's Western Popular Music at the end of the day, isn't it? There's no point in getting hung up on things. There's no difference between that [Codeine] and anything else that people are gonna hear. It's sub-genres within sub-genres.

SPB: Not a fan of labels ?

Patrick: No.

SPB: Obviously you guys get classed as doom...

Patrick: Yes, but that's because I was in Warning. You can't escape it can you?

Anyway, right now, I'm revisiting "Another Room," from Wider Than the Sky, which the band opened with last night, and which is a perfect example of the 40 Watt Sun aesthetic, in the sense that it unfolds extremely gradually, asks everything from the listener in terms of attention and patience and stillness, but rewards that focus with such intense clarity of emotion, a sort of time-release shot of feeling that seems to almost enter your bloodstream and slowly flow out to your extremities. Once you are in the space of this music, the conventions of any other music immediately recede, so that you are simply existing with, and even within, these songs. There is not ever the slightest sense of wanting them to "pick up the pace" or "get on with it"; the idea of room is so essential to the power of what they do that, standing there in the physical presence of these songs — I think of the sort of majestic trudge of the verses of "Another Room," wherein the downbeat on the snare seems to take forever to arrive — it's almost hard to imagine a music that doesn't behave in this manner, doesn't treat space and time with such care and delicacy. ("I like sparsity and space in music," Walker told Noisey in 2016. "I like to be able to feel what I'm playing and to think about what I'm singing.")

Walker's songwriting is extremely skillful, built around repetitive but deeply elegant chord changes, sections that cycle over and over without losing a deep sense of purpose, and then opening into these grand and majestic sort of turnarounds. I hesitate to even call them choruses; they're more like sacred arrivals. I think of the "I'm standing on the inside" refrain in "Another Room," and how just inexpressibly right it feels when it comes around — like, yes, this is exactly where this song needs to go at this moment. And the compositions too often pick up in intensity near the end, with a relatively hard-hitting instrumental section that acts as a kind of release for the ocean of feeling that has been building and building throughout the song.

And what is that feeling? Again, just as I bristle at the idea of this band being classified or ghettoized — and, not being a member of the band, really what I'm bristling at is the idea that the band's potential audience would be somehow limited by this notion, that people who might otherwise discover it and treasure it the way that I and the others in that room last night clearly do might somehow never even find out it exists — I shy away from using reductive or banal terms to describe the emotions their music expresses. I guess I could frame it another way and discuss the quality and affect of Walker's voice, which is stunning on record and something considerably more than that in person. He sings with such purity and grace and humble potency. (All those clichéd terms, from "croon" to "howl" seem to fall pitifully short in the face of his delivery, in much the same way that words like "melancholy" or "forlorn" seem to give only the faintest approximation of the moods Walker's songs conjure; the best way I can describe it is as sort of this direct emission of melody. His melodies are winding and ingenious but extremely fluid and logical, moving in long, orderly arcs; sometimes he'll sort of reach for a climactic note but he's not an overtly dramatic or demonstrative singer; all the affect is there in the line itself.) There are singers who seem as though they're actively trying to break your heart, and depending on their degree of skill, sometimes they will succeed through this concerted effort, but in Walker's case, there is a very different quality, almost a humility. He does not appear to be trying to have any particular effect at all on the listener; his service is only to the song. There was communion going on at last night's concert, and by that I mean that people were absolutely rapt, embracing their partners and mouthing every word, but there was not that sort of tedious and creepy sense of hero worship flowing from audience to performer. And that is, I think, due in part to Walker's uncanny degree of unpretentiousness and lack of ceremony or drama onstage. He wants and needs to get inside this music, and he will do so — aided greatly, I should say, by the consummately sensitive and unassuming playing of 40 Watt Sun's rhythm section, consisting of, on record, at least, drummer Christian Leitch and bassist William Spong, though I'm not 100% sure those were the two musicians who accompanied Walker last night (Note: Walker helpfully informed me that it was Andrew Prestidge on drums and Alasdair C. Mitchell on bass at Saint Vitus)— but he will not visibly emote or "perform" beyond what the song itself needs or demands. Frankly, seeing him deliver this monumentally moving music without seeming to "sell" it in any way to the audience only made it that much more affecting.

Which brings me to his between-song banter, which was disarmingly casual and funny and, again, only served to intensify the spotlight on the real focus of the evening, which was the songs. Before the band started playing, after Walker thanked the audience for being there, someone yelled out that they "wanted to be sad" or "were ready to be sad," or something to that effect. "You can stay at home and be sad, mate," Walker cracked with classic dry British wit. And in between songs, he told various stories of what I'd describe as misguided fandom. (Like the time a guy came up to him after a Warning show and told him very earnestly that a given song of theirs was "the second-greatest song of all time," the first being by Tori Amos.) Make no mistake, Walker clearly appreciates his fervent fan base, but he also can't help but, in his words, "take the piss," out of listeners who can only view his art in a single dimension. He described several attendees of past shows expressing dissatisfaction with his stage demeanor, saying of one fan that he was (I'm paraphrasing here) "upset that I didn't seem depressed."

Now this whole concept, i.e., that just because a given artist's music projects a certain emotion doesn't mean that this artist personally embodies that emotion, or ever did embody it, is one that should be self-evident to any mature music fan but that also is easy to lose sight of when the music in question is as affecting as Walker's. A fan might like to imagine him perpetually staring out the window at a rainy English countryside, nursing his melancholy for months on end as he prepares to slump over to his guitar and compose a new dirge. But the simple fact is that he seems like a normal, well-adjusted guy who just happens to write intensely poignant songs that seem to practically glisten with the residue of loss and the yearning and alienation that can accompany human love.

As his career has progressed, Walker seems to have only moved further from any kind of generic expression. If Warning was all about crushing loss, 40 Watt Sun expresses a deeply shaded range of feeling. In comparison with other 40 Watt songs, "Marazion," the relatively brief closing track of Wider Than the Sky, and a highlight of last night's set, embodies a kind of lightness and hopefulness, a sense that yes, we've been through the ringer here, but maybe it'll be alright. And anyway, even if not, we still have to be moving on, don't we?

The sort of normalcy of the whole event last night — Walker squeezing honey into his mouth out of one of those bear-shaped bottles at various points; misplacing his capo and asking his companion in the audience to go downstairs and check if it was in his "trousers"; or just striding casually through the crowd to the bar after a devastating unaccompanied encore — seemed so beautifully at odds with the transcendent nature of what were all witnessing. Walker seems to at once understand that his music inspires great fervor and to appreciate this fact greatly but also to intent to express to his audience that he doesn't have any answers for them beyond the songs themselves. From the Noisey interview:

Noisey: Many times you've voiced your distaste for interviews, so I really appreciate you giving us one. To be honest, I appreciate your minimalism. Interviews can be gratuitous, and with a cult of personality surrounding many artists, it gets annoyingly beside the point sometimes.

Patrick Walker: I can't overemphasize how much I agree with you on the "cult of personality" and gratuitous nature of so many interviews; reading "artists" indulging in their own myth-building and so forth. I find it all repulsive.
There wasn't even any merch for sale after the show (apparently some LPs had sold out before the band's set). Just a relatively small group, maybe or 50 or milling around in the bar, sort of happily stunned. "That's why you do music," my friend Nick said, summing up what we were all thinking. The words, the sounds, the unadorned splendor of that voice, so clear, luminous and laden with feeling, like a blessing descending upon us all for a too-brief hour or so, to be relished if not recaptured. To re-immerse in reality after a show like that is, frankly, somewhat painful. But I'm thankful that some shadow of the experience lives on the records. And that I got to be there in that little room, with those relatively few others, soaking up that enormity of song.


*I'm very intrigued by these two playlists that Patrick Walker put together — one from this year and one from 2016 — that might give some insight into what speaks to him as a songwriter and fan. It will quickly become clear on checking these out just how far Walker's aesthetic values stray from "metal" or any other reductive notion of genre.