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Horse and Rider
The Alcohol EPs
CD Split 2002 | Silber 022
14 tracks, 72 minutes
$12 ($18 international, $5 download (256 kbps, ~128 megs))
You could say that Nathan, Brian, and
Jon have each had their share of alcohol problems in the past. With enough
hindsight and sobriety to make this undertaking a possibility, but not
quite enough to forget the emotions stirred up by the booze, The Alcohol
EPs is a collection of short releases by each artist, containing songs
influenced by or written under the influence of alcohol.
"22 bottles of beer on the wall, 22 bottles of beer...." Brian John Mitchell's Silber Records' 22nd release celebrates the death of John Barleycorn with a concept album dedicated to "personal struggles for growth." With bartender Tom Waits serving up double shots of JD, the mood is somber throughout - no loudmouthed, barbrawling lagerlouts here - but, as the press release offers: "substance abuse is not glamorous." So what we have are three pseud-anonymous solo artists peering through a haze of barroom smoke wondering aloud why their pots at the end of the rainbow are overflowing with vomit and cheap rent-a-piss.
Remora (Mitchell) buys the first round with the punnily titled "I Told Jesus Christ How Much I Love Her," whose meaning reveals itself in the course of the sad ballad of our narrator who's lost his girlfriend in a car accident and has turned to the bottle for solace. "First Call" (the tracks should have been reversed) is an instrumental mood piece wherein Mitchell strums a guitar over a set of backwards tape loops and sets the stage for the remainder of the album, which thematically regresses into drunkeness (or alcoholism over the long term), recalling what a friend once told me about that "first call:" the first drink of the evening always tastes the best and you spend the remainder of the evening chasing after its elusive "rush."
"Built" is a quiet, depressing confessional that sounds like Michael Gira on 'ludes, and will appeal to everyone who misses the mood of the final Swans' albums. And speaking of JD (and depression), the world's most depressing band is the titular subject of "Joy Division." A friendly word of advice: one thing you don't want to do after your lover's left you is put on a JD record and settle into a comfy chair within arm's length of the liquor cabinet. Mitch at least hasn't gone over the deep end just yet - there's a glimmer of hope in the closing lyric, "I don't want to put a rope around my neck/I'm listening to Joy Division."
By the time he reaches "Oblivion," a lengthy, ominously strummed instrumental that illustrates the false sense of nirvana that alcohol de/in-stills, you'll be reaching for a bottle yourself. By then, "Hope is Gone," and old John Barleycorn has got his claws stuck into you and you have nothing to look forward to but a Sisyphusian climb out of the bottom of a bottle that will haunt you for the rest of your life.
New Yorker Jon De Rosa has recorded under nearly half a dozen different monikers (including Pale, Still, Dead Leaves Rising, and Aarktica), and his latest incarnation is Pale Horse and Rider. When I interviewed him a few years ago he expressed his fascination with the work of the "man in black," and his four tracks here offer the opportunity to mix Johnny Cash and Hank Williams (with a little bit of ice and a lemon twist.) Jon lives over a bar and he told me that he writes a lot of his material downstairs with the aid of a sixpack and a notebook, just watching the world go by. "You've Been Keeping Secrets Again" has the feel of an Olde English ballad about the descent into madness, or in this case alcoholism. I'm also reminded of some of those old ballads that McGuinn used to reinterpret with The Byrds. It also illustrates Reason #46 why people turn to drink: to drown their sorrows while questioning why loved ones have such a difficult time being honest with us. I can picture Jon at the end of the night sitting alone at the table after the customers have stumbled out, extemporaneously contemplating life's mysteries.
All of you who've been present at too many "closing times" will appreciate the sentiment of "Open Letter To An Empty Bar," and you certainly can identify with our hero's "Pincushion Hands," another morose ballad ruing love's labours lost. If you're familiar with any of De Rosa's other projects, this is closes to the acoustic melancholia of Dead Leaves Rising (with a Tequila chaser); if you're not, imagine Mark Eitzel getting thrown out of every American music club for too much drinking and you're in the neighborhood (bar).
Alcoholism is, of course, inherited - the gene sometimes lies dormant for years until an event triggers the wakeup call that will ruin the rest of your life. It's amazing how often that trigger is the loss of a loved one (literally and figuratively) and both sides of that trigger are explored across the 14 tracks on this full-length split EP.
The only thing I can make out of Nathan Amundson (aka Rivulets)' "Anaconda" is that he's using it as a euphemism for a suffocating relationship. Unfortunately, I had to sit through 12 minutes of him repeating the title before he got to the (spiked) punchline: "I always knew you'd leave." "Gimme Excess" sounds like it was recorded on a boombox in the next room. It consists primarily of Nathan strumming the shit out of his sixstring for 7 minutes and stream-of-consciously talking to the pink elephants and "spirits" of the night until it sounds like he falls out of the chair and Nathan and said guitar go crashing to the floor. A female companion shouts "Nathan!" and seems to rush to his rescue, so it might not be an act!? Well, that's one way to end an evening, but it's a bit too much "method singing" for my liking.
"Shakes" is surprisingly beautiful in light of the foregoing and is reminsicent of the naked honesty of Nick Drake's Pink Moon sessions. THe whole bender comes to a close with "Your Light & How It Shined" that benefits from a driving beat that shuffles along with equal parts David Crosby trying to remember his name and John Sebastian having a dream. Overall, his segment should appeal to fans of Songs:Ohia (Jason Molina), Daniel Johnston, and Jandek. Unfortunately, I'm neither.
…As to the release itself, granted it starts in the gutter and proceeds to trickle down the sewer of depravity, self-pity, and self-loathing, but it's unique as perhaps the first release dedicated entirely to alcoholism, and its aforementioned message that "alcoholism is not glamorous" is to be congratulated and bears repeating. Alcoholics may find it about as comforting as an AA meeting, vicariously reliving their own personal demons with a knowing "been there, done that" nod; teetotalers, on the other hand, will probably shake their heads and remind the participants that no problem was ever resolved "under the influence;" while the social, on-the-cusp drinkers might want to stick this on next time they're feeling in a particularly melancholic mood, and wallow in the misery within these grooves rather than the bottom of a bottle. Imagine if all the characters in Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit were alcoholics and you'll have an idea of what this AA meeting from hell sounds like. The press release says all the songs were either inspired by, or written under the influence of alcohol. Whether they were performed under the same condition is for you to decide."
~ Vinyl Junkie
The idea of three different projects, each contributing
an EP's worth of material, in a concept album is a unique one. But since
all three of these projects are primarily the work of one man, all who
have had their share of alcohol problems in the past, the idea works surprisingly
well. All influenced by or written under the influence of alcohol, these
14 songs are surprisingly good, mellow, mostly acoustic tracks that work
The Alcohol EPs (subtitled: Substance Abuse Is
Not Glamorous), released last week on Silber Records, collects three mini-albums
by geographically disparate artists sharing a common, stunningly dark aesthetic.
This release had the idea of compiling songs together
by three singer-songwriters who experienced excessive? Drinking, alcohol
permeated inspiration, while losing control. Alcohol remains a poison and
abuse tires any self-development down to a two chord hopelessness. I cannot
see how alcohol could bring more inspiration other than what it leaves
behind : a hope for departure on its addiction. I reviewed a couple of
Rivulets releases before. New to me are Remora, usually down into more
underground musical territories, and Jon DeRosa's Pale Horse and Rider
from another countryflavoured background.
Not a collection of previously-unreleased material, but
a batch of new tunes from three individuals-posing-as-groups, supposedly
dealing with the titular subject in one form or another. (Kinda like how
the Foxtrot compilation dealt with John Balance's similar battle
with alcoholism.) Of course one has to be a harsh sonnuvabitch to
criticize work done under such conditions, but since that's why we're paid
the big bucks.... The lineup includes Rivulets, Remora, & Pale Horse
and Rider, trading in their (mostly) usual atmospheric post-rock for quieter
but no less intense songs trading in a topic they know all-too-well.
Even though other instruments/effects are used at times, it's the acoustic
guitar that drives them all. Would have to admit taking the aforementioned
over this, but the tracks from Remora work the best, especially when he
incorporates some of his own brand of post-rock in the mix, resulting in
a desolate two-in-the-morning feel to the tunes.
Three band entities deliver their songs inspired by, or
created under the influence of
This CD culls EP-size contributions from three indie songwriters,
united by their love of the bottle. These are misery songs written under
the influence or influenced by alcohol. All are bedroom productions, acoustic
guitar and voice laid down at night on a four-track tape recorder. Remora,
aka Brian John Mitchell opens with a 20 minute set. The leitmotiv of the
first song sets the mood: "I told Jesus Christ how much I love her / Why
did He have to take her away from me?" This simple complaint would have
worked better later on the album, once the listener has had time to adapt
to the mood. Mitchell¹s shoegazing instrumentals don¹t even lift
up the bleak atmosphere reigning over his set. After that, Jon DeRosa's
project Pale Horse and Rider feels somewhat lighter. Informed by folk and
country music, his four songs (another 20 minutes) are better written,
more assumed, and generally more straightforward than anything else on
this CD. "Bruises Like Badges" even evokes Barenaked Ladies at their
quietest. Don¹t be fooled though, the lyrics are still heavy in life
experience contents, as "You've Been Keepin' Secrets Again" can testify.
Nathan Amundson's Rivulets closes the proceedings with 30 minutes of music
split between four songs. Darker and more tortured, his long repetitive
songs ("Anaconda" runs for 12 minutes) have a theatrical side, but it¹s
overdone. "Gimme Excess" ends in a staged collapse that is simply too logical
to strike and not enough to make us forget the horrible sound quality of
that particular track. He is much better when sticking to shorter songs
like "Shakes", the disc's highlight. The Alcohol EPs will not brighten
up your day, If you can¹t stand indie folk singers in their early
20s ranting about their lost girlfriends, stay away.
The concept is interesting for a compilation to say the
least: three bands recording songs that are influenced by or created under
the influence of alcohol. It could be an absolute disaster, but here it
works quite nicely. Then again, the artists featured here are no slouches
(even though they may be out of their element a bit). Remora, a.k.a. Brian
John Mitchell, usually creates ambient drone-rock, but chose an acoustic
guitar as a starting point for his contributions. Jon DeRosa used to present
more experimental fare with Aarktica, but his Pale Horse and Rider—making
a recording debut here—has a more country flavor with that modern troubadour
appeal. And what more can I say about Rivulets? Nathan Amundson, fresh
from his full-length debut and EP, adds the longest tracks here with aplomb.
The results of these three different projects are quite stunning as well
as incredibly maudlin in nature. DeRosa is a fresh voice with heartbreak
on his mind, and his songs are incredibly affecting. On "Bruises Like Badges,"
he explores the mindset of the casual victim who thrives on the attention
of others, as his voice trembles and begs for her to hide the conversation
pieces from him. The seven-minute "You've Been Keeping Secrets Again" is
the best of the lot, with DeRosa providing his own haunting harmony. Remora's
songs are less polished than the others, and far more eclectic, though
still solid. They're also the spookiest, as the titles would suggest ("Oblivion,"
"Hope is Gone"). On "Joy Division," he approaches madness: "We both know
I always wanted you forever / I don't want to put a rope to my throat /
but I'm listening to Joy Division." Scary. Rivulets just add more reasons
for accolades to the set, with simple songs that are far beyond the length
my tolerance affords other artists. Amundson never loses you, as his earnest
tunes have an inescapable gravity with every guitar strum. He seems to
be growing more comfortable with his voice, too, even if the vocals are
mixed way in the background. The climax on "Anaconda" with its "I knew
you would leave" is especially touching. And there are a few missteps all
around (Amundson misses more than one note on "Gimme Excess," for instance).
The simple charm of the release gets you over that real quick. Just don't
listen too long, as it's liable to depress you.
A three-way split between three slo-core acts, featuring
songs "influenced by or written under the influence of alcohol," the press
release informs us. This is the sound of three artists bravely recreating
the visions of long nights spent drinking alone, as well as confronting
their inner demons, working their way out of hard substance abuse.
*Substance abuse is not glamorous