Will Johnson

Murder of Tides

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Describing the sound of Will Johnson's solo debut, Murder of Tides, as stark is like calling Niagara Falls wet -- well yes, it is, but such a simplistic handle doesn't begin to do it justice. Johnson, the hyper-prolific singer/songwriter wunderkind behind Texas indie rock outfits Centro-Matic and South San Gabriel, creates a hauntingly hazy sonic portrait with nothing more than sparse acoustic guitar, sampled strings, Mellotron, organ, some whistling, one strategically placed shard of weeping fiddle at album's end, and of course his own torn shirt cuff of a voice. Murder of Tides' mood is that of a long-deserted, 150-year-old house where dark winds howl through cracked windows, and the characters who populate the record's ten songs are equally spooky, sketchy, and insane. "Philo Manitoba," for instance, chronicles the aftermath of a man who drinks a gasoline-and-phosphate, sets himself on fire, and laughs out loud amidst his transformation into "a real live human bomb"; it's one of the most quietly gripping songs you'll ever set ears on. Occasional Westerberg-ian turns of phrase (e.g., "You say your life's like the movies/I say it's more like trash TV" on "Tent of Total Mystery") ply Johnson's ample lyrical wares, ever so slightly allaying the pitch-black themes explored throughout the album. Nevertheless, Murder of Tides finds Johnson expressing a certain Springsteen-esque empathy for the misguided and the down and out, people everyone has known at one time or another who anticipate "the arrival of pretty much nothing" ("Karcher's Contacts"), day in and day out. If Johnson's alternately raspy/arching vocals and tales of desperation don't get you, then Scott Danbom's weeping Mellotron on "The Riot Jack" will. Where Johnson's work with South San Gabriel is a walk on the brisk high desert plains, and Centro-Matic records are often a cannon shot down the interstate blacktop, Murder of Tides is an initially difficult, albeit ultimately rewarding slog through the dilapidated, seen-better-days towns of the low desert.

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