Dearland is a Wondrous Place
Sometimes the tragedy in an artist’s history becomes so overwhelming that it takes over the narrative of their career and its output. When you are born the son of a famous actor who suffered and died of AIDS, you ache in one way. Losing your mother in the terrorist attacks that took place on September 11, 2001, is an entirely different world of suffering.
Elvis Perkins dealt with a lot of that particular emotional impact on his previous record Ash Wednesday. Time has passed, and while pain may not have, Perkins has tapped into his inner Joe Strummer and released a solid record in Elvis Perkins in Dearland. This latest release has the lyrical weighting of a Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros record, but the music takes it to a different level. The tracking order has the feel of some narrative a la Graceland, while the diverse instrumentation keeps the record from getting bogged down in its tale. There was much expected from Perkins on his follow up to the contemplative Ash Wednesday and he has delivered.
The record opens with a windy howl and picked guitar line before an organ joins in. “Shampoo” manages to evoke John Ford films with its intro, before turning into a reggae beat poem. Immediately, the listener will recognize the difference between this record and Ash Wednesday. There is great attention to detail in the instrumentation. In “Hey”, Perkins croons like the original Elvis before segueing into an Orbison-like love song. At one point, he sings with an obvious smile “If it was up to me I would leave it all up to you”.
“123 Goodbye” is confounding. With its three-finger piano and lyric “One, two, three, goodbye / I love you more in death than I ever did in life”, it evokes images of life with his famous father, as well as the loss of a lover. The orchestration rises as the song moves from child’s simplicity to an Arcade Fire-like thunderous closing.
There are also moments of quiet Cohen-esque maudlin reflection. He aches on tracks like “Hours Last Stand” and “Send My Regards to Lonelyville”, but for the most part this record is a celebration of music and the gift of life. Perkins demonstrates at every turn a gifted lyrical style that has plenty of room to grow.
Ash Wednesday was a fantastic debut, but it also left the feeling that it may have used up all the gas in Perkins’s tank. It was stark, driven by specific emotional events, and seemed incredibly isolating. In comparison, Elvis Perkins in Dearland is an amusement park ride. It is more than a fan would expect from a sophomore effort, and likely to wind up on many a critic’s “top ten” list.