Music

Rocky Votolato: Television of Saints

With such a copacetic approach to music-making, it's unlikely that Votolato will be doing anything but preaching to the converted for quite some time.


Rocky Votolato

Television of Saints

Label: Undertow Music
US Release Date: 2012-04-03
UK Release Date: 2012-03-27
Amazon
iTunes

Rocky Votolato grew up in rural Frost, Texas, the son of a member of local motorcycle gang the Scorpions. Though he grew up on a steady diet of country music, his mother moved the family to Seattle in Votolato's early teens, and he began playing in various punk and indie groups before forming the Fugazi-indebted Waxwing with his younger brother Cody (also of erstwhile spazz-rockers the Blood Brothers). While Waxwing was still active, Rocky began playing quieter, acoustic-based music under his own name. The country sensibilities of his youth bumped up against the emotional bloodletting of his more adenoidal work, leaving sandpaper-voiced melodies and gentle acoustic support fleshed out combined with vivid, imagistic lyrics.

Votolato's most recent album, Television of Saints is his first released without a record label, though the change in distribution isn't reflected in the content: this is a Rocky Votolato album through and through, from the amiable vocal delivery to the relaxed strumming and minimal accompaniment. To his credit, the best elements of his success remain intact: Votolato remains firmly in the "show, don't tell" school of songwriting (there's a lovely string of images in "St. Louis": "White German Shepherd / Trailer park / Dirt yard and a chain link fence") and his melodies are still accessible and unadorned. There are also some nice touches of the avant-garde – the electric guitar on "Crooked Arrows" flirts with dissonance at times – that keep the album from sinking too much into maudlin coffeehouse sentiment.

The biggest problem with Television of Saints is that it's generic and doesn't break much new ground for Votolato. Now, Votolato has hardly made a career out of reinvention – he's been working in this same milieu for quite some time – but I suspect that the somewhat shoestring budget of Saints (the album was largely funded through Kickstarter donations, and was put together for under $40,000) led to some corner-cutting in the songwriting, or at the very least, some "That's good enough" in the arrangements. The songs are consistent to say the best and positively same-y to say the worst, and though Votolato is a charming, personable singer, his voice isn't exactly agile or varied enough from track to track to carry the scant arrangements. There are some lovely moments though on Saints: the aforementioned "St. Louis", "Fool's Gold", and "Sunlight" all offer pleasing if toothless charms, and "Little Spring" moves at a sprightly pace and offers some Simon and Garfunkel-esque, low-key harmonizing. "Instrument" is one of the full-band tracks, and it approaches intensity more than any other of the album's tracks, thanks in part to a yearning vocal performance and the band's casual but firm support.

"Pleasing" is probably the ultimate adjective apply to Votolato's music: he's not a particularly challenging songwriter, nor is he given to bombast or grandiose statements. He doesn't put on airs, and he's been mining roughly the same finely textured emotional territory for years now. But his earnestness is his biggest selling point: he doesn't need to be a Tom Waits or a Bob Dylan, assuming multiple voices and characters or telling stories from every conceivable point of view. Rather, he remains who's he's always been, and longtime fans will no doubt respond to that. But with such a copacetic approach to music-making, it's unlikely that he'll be doing anything but preaching to the converted for quite some time.

5

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image