Spectral Country, Slowed to a Crawl and Dotted With Silence
Love ends in a whisper on this dark and velvety album, ten fragmentary and narcotizing country soundscapes, all sentiment scraped carefully from their ominous surfaces. Tim Foljhan’s fifth full-length album as Two Dollar Guitar is primarily a solo affair, his deep gothic voice embellished by minimal flourishes of guitar and cello. Lines drift off into silence here, words evaporating into bottomless pools of consideration. “I’m so tired…of this life of lies…that I live…alone”, sings Toljhan in the bruised and melancholy “Cascade”, the phrases so widely separated that they might not belong to the same sentence at all.
“Wide Load” is the album’s hallucinatory centerpiece, wavering electronic notes and a three-note arpeggio framing murmured observations of ruined love. The song has a droning, late night hopelessness to it, a sort of burned out acceptance that’s somehow more desperate than despair. The notes are strung out, barely connected to one another, in melodies spiked with tenuous silences. The effect is very much like a drug, artificial calm masking deep, submerged turbulence. It is also quite beautiful, in a foreboding, deep black sort of way, each phrase ending with the dull chant of “It’s a wide load…It’s a wide load”.
Not all the album’s songs are so dark. “Swamp Girl” has an echoey, finger-picked lightness, a country lilt bobbing under its hollow-voiced drama. And “4 O’Clock”, with its mouth-right-against-the-mic vocals, puts an optimistic flurry of autoharp notes against its downbeat, after-the-break-up subject matter. Nor is there much to fear from the two gorgeous instrumentals that bookend the album. “Blue Coat and Yellow Vest” is all glistening acoustic guitar figures punctuated by sudden chords, mirage-like in its shimmery, acoustic loveliness. “The Ghost Ship”, which closes the album, is denser, full of giddy guitar runs up and down the scales that double back and interlock with each other in delicate lattice patterns.
Yet enjoyable as these outings are, the album’s center clearly lies in more troubled territory. “The Wear and Tear of Fear”, near the end, begins with the observation, “I lost another woman / But I don’t care / It looks like it’s the end of fun”, and ends with a call for the wrecking ball. “Who wants to care at all?” sings Foljhan in his curiously detached voice, against a wonderfully warm and organic background of guitar and surging cello. It’s an almost clinical description of alienation, encased in the soft, enveloping familiarity of country music… disturbing, powerful, and weird.