Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci has only been gone for a couple of years, but songwriter Euros Childs already has three solo albums out since the demise. This third one, and his second for 2007, has all of the sweet-sad and folk-rocking charm of his old band, a little less of the goofiness and only a bit of poodle rocking.
The heart of the album is its nearly 16-minute title track, a multi-parted, mood-shifting epic that, like much of this album, juxtaposes the joy of making music with the discouragement and intermittent futility of pursuing the indie rock lifestyle. It starts softly, sadly, with Childs alone at the piano, singing in his fragile falsetto, over splayed chords and melancholy runs over the keyboard. The lyrics are hard to make out, sung so quietly that the piano keys overwhelm them, but even without words, it’s easy to pick up a general tone of resignation, regret and melancholy. But after a minute of this, the piano chords become more insistent, a bit of music hall gaiety creeping into the mix. A surge of tightly harmonized voices, all Childs’ I believe, coo “Ooooh, the miracle inn,” and the mood lifts quite suddenly, as if the sun had just come out from behind a cloud. The drums come in about a minute later, and Childs sings about “dancing on tables” and inquires, “Have you ever heard my brother/Sing ‘Born in the USA’” in an unexpected turn towards the rock. The piano turns barroom rollicking, and Childs’ exhorts everyone to “Keep movin’”. It’s as celebratory as the first part of the song was melancholy, and you can feel, perhaps along with Childs, the power of music lifting you up.
“Miracle Inn” continues to weave through these sorts of lights and shadows, organ drones and vulnerability giving way to nature-worshiping folk then to wispy piano reveries. There are five or six songs incorporated into this one long track, tied together by the sometimes boisterous, sometimes-subdued main theme. By the end, you’re pretty sure that the obliquely described “Miracle Inn” is nothing more than the place that allows Childs to play music, forget his worries and find some sort of joy in the world.
The rest of the album can, perhaps, be viewed through this prism of this song, with piano pounding pop alternating with sweet, reflective daydreams. “Horseriding” is the best of the up tempo songs, all staccato stabs at the keyboards, dreamy “ooohs” and Kinks-ish watercolor melodies. It’s not quite as rocking as some of Gorky’s back catalogue, but it trots and wallops along like a pony cart, as giddily silly as a nursery rhyme. “Ali Day”, right after, is just about as good with stark pianos giving into lush, high-toned harmonies, a strain of yearning exactly balanced with happiness.
The quieter songs have their own sort of appeal. Simple melodies are allowed to breathe and flow against minimal backgrounds. “I Think I’ll Fly Away,” is dreamily, lithesomely beautiful, just Childs and a bit of guitar. But it’s “Outside My Window” that stops the clock, as Childs singing above a church-like organ, creates verses that are like photos from an old family photo album. Here friends, lovers, and a music career drift by like mirages, couched in wistful melancholy. “Hard Times Wondering,” by contrast, is far more rhythmic and tense, paced by a blues-hypnotic guitar pattern, Childs weaving in and out of the mix in anxious verses.
Both the pop songs and the ballads work on their own terms, but set together, they take on an especial appeal. It’s like clouds blowing over a blue sky or a scattering of flowers in a barren landscape. The contrast makes each part more itself and more meaningful.