After the bleakness in the parts of Skeleton Tree touched directly by his son Arthur’s death, and the desolate grief of the accompanying documentary One More Time with Feeling, this is Nick Cave’s statement of faith. Ghosteen is unlike any record he’s made before, often sung in a desperate, reckless, heedless, loving voice unheard till now. If his heart has had to be torn open to reveal its varieties of vulnerability – the bereft croon and shaking falsetto on “Spinning Song”, the absolutely lovelorn, unabashed full-heartedness of “Bright Horses” – they remain remarkable sounds. The chiselled lyrics of latter-day Cave, the sober working writer, meanwhile retain their craft, but feel illuminated.
A faint comet-trail of guitar seems to pass across the opening of “Sun Forest”, but otherwise there’s little sign of rock. Warren Ellis is Cave’s main collaborator, synth washes, loops, some piano and strings the ambient cradle for these songs. The man who recently said that atheism is no friend of the songwriter peoples them with ghost children, blazing animals, surely his wife Susie (“In the back room washing his clothes, love’s like that you know”), and God.
That last relationship has been Cave’s most intellectually complex and slippery. Here he simply releases himself into belief in a wondrous, supernal existence, a realm where many artists, religious or not, feel at home. It anyway makes more liveable sense than the alternative. “And we’re all so sick and tired of seeing things as they are… Oh, this world is plain to see,” he sings in the defining passage of “Bright Horses”. “It don’t mean we can’t believe – and anyway, my baby’s coming back now.” If that baby is arriving on the train of a thousand blues songs, the child he lost also returns over and over, in visions and metaphors, and some kind of actuality. The New Testament promises (“I am beside you… look for me”) and crooned incantations of “Ghosteen Speaks” suggest near incarnation as a holy ghost.
Cave’s invigorated release from dismay finally allows the three long songs on Ghosteen’s second disc, the mysterious, nocturnal wander of “Hollywood” especially, which suggests yet another new writing freedom. It’s been a long, difficult path from The Birthday Party, and if the aesthetic quality of Ghosteen’s gusher of love seems hard, even irrelevant, to judge, Cave is back on firm, high ground.
THE HOBBLEDEHOY loves Joan Shelley. Looking forward to Joan’s show in Boston on November 15
Marc doesn’t consider himself a “folk music guy” but he cannot deny how strongly he responds to singer-songwriter Joan Shelley’s work. Joan talks with Marc about her Kentucky upbringing and how she’s careful to respect the roots of folk music while also infusing her work with a vulnerability and texture that is her own. She also discusses her collaborative relationship with Nathan Salsburg, working with Jeff Tweedy as her producer, and her reasons for recording her latest album in Iceland. Plus, Joan gives some songwriting tips to Marc to help him overcome his own insecurity so he can finally write some songs. This episode is sponsored by Comedy Central, WNYC’s Scattered podcast, SimpliSafe, and the Adult Swim Podcast.
The brilliantly unpredictable composer is back making rollercoastering solo albums full of irreverent experiments and serious innovation
Not many musicians are made an MBE before they’ve released their second album, but Anna Meredith was given the honour this summer. Yet to frame the Scottish composer’s career in terms of solo records alone is rather misleading. The 41-year-old already had a storied career as a divisively experimental classical composer when she released her 2016 debut Varmints, an album whose synth-heavy confections were so maximalist and frenetic they often felt frighteningly unpredictable.
Since then, Meredith has continued her acclaimed work in the classical arena, as well as diversifying into film scores (she recently wrote the music for Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade). She is also back making solo albums, including the “most bangery pop pop” she reckons she’s ever created.
Fibs has much in common with Varmints – the rollercoastering instrumentals that thunder and squeal their way through wordless narratives; the more conventional vocal-centric tracks that recall the cutesier end of Britpop – but it feels lighter and brighter. Opener Sawbones arrives in an amusingly bombastic flurry of hammering, high-pitched disco synths; by the end it has settled somewhere between happy hardcore, a vintage horror film score and a fast-forwarded prog epic. On Inhale Exhale, Meredith sounds like a hybrid of Claire Grogan and Harriet Wheeler as she sings wry, sage lyrics over insistently pounding rave synths, while Killjoy’s jerky sophisti-pop is a kind of Everything Everything But The Girl.
The effect of all this incongruity is like a hundred bolts from the blue: Fibs is brimming with contrary combinations, irreverent genre-bending and serious innovation.