For the last decade or so as Wovenhand, and for some time before that in 16 Horsepower, David Eugene Edwards has been performing a sort of dark folk-rock that’s remained remarkably consistent in both its sound and its unusually high quality. By this point in his career, though, the question arises: does Edwards have a unique sound, or does all his music sound the same? Which side of that divide you find yourself on will largely determine how you respond to The Threshingfloor, the new album from Wovenhand.
The Edwards album typically feels like a dark imagining of some sort of haunted dust bowl. The American South, Southwest, and Old West all make appearances, leading to sepia vision of something both precise and nonspecific. Comparisons to parts of Nick Cave’s work are common (and fitting). Hints of a deranged old-timey preacher aren’t far off either.
To describe his music as consistent isn’t the same as to say the sound has been static. It doesn’t take a superfan to hear the differences between Sackcloth and Ashes and The Threshingfloor (or the other albums). In a way, it’s a testament to Edwards’ singular vision, and his ability to experiment, push, and find nuance within a given aesthetic structure. For years now, Edwards’ bands have made the apocalypse sound both imminent and highly textured.
With that it mind, you know what to expect when a new album comes out. There’s nothing disappointing about The Threshingfloor, but there’s nothing especially revealing. The concern around it seems to be its use of world music influences (particularly Eastern European and Middle Eastern musics). These influences have always been present, though, and even if they come more to the fore in cuts like the title track, it’s not an essential change from recent Wovenhand work, but merely a change in emphasis.
It might be worth pointing out the one anomaly to this structure, the closing “Denver City”, which has its roots in more traditional rock sounds, even pulling some from the Rolling Stones. It’s a decent song, but a particularly strange way to close out the album, shifting the dark mood abruptly. I’m not sure if we’re to hear this as a coda, a wry point, or simply a song too good to be unreleased but too different to fit in anywhere except the end.
Lyrically, Edwards keeps up the similar themes of his past records, with his Christianity as a driving force for content and imagery. While it might sound like fervent storm at times, the music isn’t hopeless. “His Rest” offers a source of peace for everyone. While sin may be inescapable, Edwards’ writing here drives more toward the possibility of redemption. For all the doom that the music conveys, the ultimate goal remains the transcendence of that dark trap.
If you’re a fan of either Wovenhand or 16 Horsepower, probably not much of this comes as a surprise to you, which, isn’t in itself a flaw of the album. However, there’s also little hear to recommend this album over the previous releases, being neither as beautiful as Ten Stones nor as challenging as Mosaic. The fire and fury remain, but it’s hard not to feel only satisfied and not truly invigorated at this point.
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// Notes from the Road
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