[18 August 2011]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Jesse Lortz, singer from Dutchess and the Duke, steps out into new, solitary territory with his new solo project, Case Studies. The World Is Just a Shape to Fill the Night is as isolated and dark as its title implies, with Lortz laying his sweet groan over spare and deathly folk tunes. There are other players on here, who weave in spare percussion and other flourishes like the low guitar on “Lies” or the keening violin on “My Silver Hand”. What the other players do best here, though, is offer their voices. Lortz is surely hurting in these songs, pining after a love broken and lost, but the emotions come across best when he has others to help him sing them. “The Eagle, or the Serpent” blooms into a chorus of layered voices, making its downtrodden wondering somehow triumphant. “Texas Ghost Story”, otherwise a Cohen-esque folk haunt, is most beautiful in the backing vocals on the swaying chorus. These moments, when others intrude on Lortz lonesome sound, are what bring the songs to life. Lortz lyrical work here is equally strong, with lines of clear-eyed heartbreak (“I’d like to still be in your bed, but I would settle for your life instead”) and careful, almost too intimate details (“You lifted up your skirt and took a piss right in the street”). These are carefully crafted and beautiful songs, even if they feel too emotionally raw in spots. Walking that line, between confession and over-sharing, is tough to do, and though Lortz sometimes spills into the latter, it’s his willingness to delve into wounds here, rather than coat them with easy sentiments, that makes this record resonate.