It wasn't the alt-country that he was known for, but David Eugene Edwards made something just as american (if more gothic) with Blush Music.
When Edwards real band, the very good 16 Horsepower, took a break in 2001 he slipped into the studio with engineer Bob Ferbrache (a separate post is coming on his eccentric genius) and went to work on Woven Hand. The resulting self-titled record was eerie and discomforting.
A Belgian avant-garde dance troupe, Ultima Vez, heard it and commissioned a reworking of it for a major dance piece they planned. Back to the studio went Edwards and Ferbrache and Blush Music is the result. It is no less disturbing than the original upon which it was based, but it's farther reaching and far more stunning. It's a dreamscape of song and sounds. Doors creak, old boats thump against piers, conversations are overheard, children cry out, guitars notes are plucked and salvation seems a long way away. It is Bill Callahan and Will Oldham territory, if their roads never saw the light.
Though meant to be heard as a whole, there are moments that settle on your chest and make your breathing more difficult. The knee-buckling cover of Withers' Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone is a 14 minute ride through a bleak dispairing landscape filled with the crow-caws and distant voices and feedback, carried along on a plucking banjo. It is haunting.
Blush Music revamps and expands upon a number of backwoods dirges from the debut: the last record's brief cover of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine" emerges monumentally as the fourteen-minute "Animalitos (Ain't No Sunshine)", sounding like a moment from Current 93's All the Pretty Little Horses, and including extended nonvocal passages, creepy children's voices, nocturnal bird sounds, bass drones, and the sharp rumble of burning wood.
Likewise, "My Russia (Standing on Hands)" and "Your Russia (Without Hands)"-- based on the significantly briefer "My Russia"-- build momentum with shakers, simple percussion, organ wheezes, large doses of quivering feedback from a Gypsy caravan, and Edwards' deep bellow, a combination of Nick Cave shouts and Will Oldham's windswept bays. "My Russia (Without Hands)" is grounded by a heavy bassline and repeated high-pitched guitar note, and at times he sounds like a more literary, less soporific Black Heart Procession.
A denser take on "Story and Pictures" skips like a creaking pin-box coffin until the mess drips away for the clear sounds of a piano and Edwards' less gravely vocal track: "As a boy I drew too near/ To the love of dust." The result of his patience and the compositional layering is a painful, almost unbelievably gorgeous madrigal: the incidental drone of Young Goodman Brown's midnight trek slowed to a crawl, the occult vapors seep in time-lapse to the most unfamiliar corners of a frightening forest.
Blush Music's new material is equally tangled in the rich soil and briar patches of the deep underbrush. With fiddles, mandolins, insects, accordions, whispers, nettles, walnut pews, and splattered green flies, "Snake Bite" and "Another White Bird" are epic Rain Dogs instrumentals tortured 'til they scream. Perhaps the creepiest bit on the record, "Aeolian Harp (Under the World)" begins with whispers and creaking dock sounds that multiply until Edwards intones with a Bill Callahan lugubriousness: "Now is the end of the gentile/ Pluck aeolian harp, my child/ beyond the lust of this moment/ Thin as a pine slat/ It does no good to call you mine." His three-part prophecy-- a weird godless dream-quest-- ends when language evaporates into the sounds of a southern chain gang of ghosts.
This isn't light stuff - but its rewards are great. I can not recommend this enough.