Simon Joyner

Beautiful Losers

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For Simon Joyner's fans, this 21-track CD is the grail. It contains his singles, but more importantly compilation tracks from strange places, such as "Fearful Man" from the Circumstantial Evidence #2 cassette compilation -- and that's only the beginning. Arranged aesthetically, not chronologically (though these tracks come from recordings done between 1994 and 1999), these cuts open up another door in Joyner's world. One utterly startling revelation that asserts itself immediately in cuts such as the aforementioned and "Robin Hood" is how much Joyner has listened to and sublimated the influence of the late Townes Van Zandt. For all his lack of self-promotion, Joyner comes out of a tradition of literary American primitives that reaches back decades. Another thing that one hears in spades in these willy-nilly cuts is how much time Bright Eyes -- aka Conor Oberst -- has spent listening to Joyner. (Check "Hotter Than Satan's Heels" and "Is This How Generous You Are?" for evidence.) The international nature of this compilation is remarkable. According to his liner notes, he sent many of these songs out without hope of them ever being used. "Milk," from a double 7" comp on Walt in 1996, is one of those chilling, reckless Joyner songs that gets inside the blood. One can hear, in the grain of his voice, a world coming undone in a vivid dream. A manic acoustic guitar strummed with panic gives Joyner the license to give voice to his terror: "Put my life out like a candle/Smears two fingerprints/Saw a child crouched down/Write my name in fresh cement/She said I know you're in a hurry/But could you give an angel a minute/Well, I don't want to get up/While the moon's in place/And this bad dream's passing/Through the lines in my face...." This song is indicative of the naked, shivering soul that comes out of the ether of Joyner's muse to testify on his records. These "tired horses" he refers to in his liners are the least thought-out, most immediate tracks he's ever recorded. They are loose, even raw. They feel tossed off, but the words are far too realized for that. And it's here that you can find yourself treated to a sound world unguarded. While his albums are full of emotion, they are also more studied -- and ultimately very moving and beautiful. Where his full-lengths are conceived and executed -- usually with other musicians (and some tracks contain other layers here) -- according to whatever sonic path Joyner is following, these stopovers can't be bothered to follow a path, because they are paths unto themselves. This compilation is necessary not only because it reveals but because it confounds -- it asks questions again and again. Joyner is as mercurial a songwriter and performer as one is likely to find. He's a true outsider; he not only won't come in from the cold, but he can't; he's gone too far by now. And the nebulous edge he walks, crawls, and stumbles upon is the blood-red stiletto of the human heart.

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