June Panic

Baby's Breadth

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Though it possesses none of the icy dread of its predecessor, the stunning Horror Vacui, Baby's Breadth still finds June Panic tormented by matters of faith and mortality. Ostensibly a story about childbirth, the record is really a parable about spiritual awakening and religious conversion. What is fascinating about Baby's Breadth is the way Panic seems just as terrified of God as he is of death and the devil. He pledges his devotion with trembling verbs: God stole his heart, his salvation is crucifixion, without God he is poor. It's as if he's Francisco de Goya, running to God not out of love but being driven to him as refuge from an endless string of nightmares and visions. The record often seems the product of a man inhabiting the farthest plains of sanity. "Giving up the Ghost" is an impassioned but bizarre rant against circumcision ("Don't sacrifice skin to medi-sin," goes one lyric) and "Sex Is for Children" contains the advice, "F*ck next to beautiful children/Who come and conceive a pure light." To his credit, Panic manages to make these maniacal claims cohere with his sudden spiritual awakening, and in the context of Baby's Breadth, these outbursts sound like divine revelations. It's a shame that the music lacks the ballast necessary to carry out such an ambitious affair. Panic is still toiling in the lurching, echo-laden folk that characterized his past outings, but instead of enhancing the mystery, the brittle guitars and thumping percussion just sound worn out. Panic's adenoidal ululations and spare songcraft made his earlier work sound like junior Time out of Minds, but here they feel a bit wan. The surreal visions remain engaging, but Panic's method of conveying them is starting to show signs of wear.

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