Music

August Wells: Madness Is the Mercy

If you have a soft spot for subtly baroque songs with a deep well of empathy and passion, this is for you.


August Wells

Madness is the Mercy

Label: FIFA
US Release Date: 2016-09-09
UK Release Date: 2016-09-09
Amazon
iTunes

I have seen August Wells perform in pubs and bars -- and, in one case, an abandoned luncheonette -- throughout New York City and Brooklyn, and each time, I am reminded of how rare it is to encounter someone with the prowess of vocalist Ken Griffin or pianist John Rauchenberger’s in such modest places. Whether playing as the core duo or embellished with brass, strings or bass guitar, the takeaway is always the same: Griffin is an unheralded talent. Listening to Madness is the Mercy, the second release under the August Wells moniker, it becomes even more apparent that Griffin and Rauchenberger’s songs exude more depth and warmth than a cursory listen might suggest.

From the album’s one-two opening of singles “Here In The Wild” and “Come On In Out Of That Night”, it may seem all too easy to glean what we’re in for. These are songs for the downtrodden, delivered with a rich sympathy and lyrics that hint at knowing life on the margins all too well. An Irish ex-pat previously known for helming the underrated Rollerskate Skinny, the hardships bred from Griffin’s second home, New York, coarse through these songs. Those moments of abject humanity that are bound to happen when navigating a city of millions are captured perfectly in the sparse shuffle of “Crazy Crazy Crazy”. From the harried parent to the rich woman squeezing avocados too hard, these are the everyday sorts who can lead the more observational among us to ponder life’s cruelty and unpredictability, all born from a simple stroll down a New York City block.

Madness is the Mercy is undoubtedly in line with the Lou Reed / Leonard Cohen / Nick Cave at his most somber style of songwriting, but even those who have met their eloquent and sparse singer-songwriter quota will concede that Griffin’s voice is an instrument all his own -- an enormously rich baritone with the most striking vibrato in recent memory. Although Griffin’s influences may be easy to discern, his consistently impassioned delivery ensures these songs are far more than tracings of his heroes’ best loved ballads.

Musically, these songs are spare. Though flute, horn and percussion make the odd appearances, these songs rely heavily on Rauchenberger’s multifaceted playing, and Griffin’s guitar-playing and singing to get the job done. Despite the sometimes level plane on which the music rests, Madness is the Mercy carries with it a lot of drama. Songs like “Katie Calls Home” and “Daddy” have unexpected codas that give these yearning songs some additional emotional heft. “This Man Cries” has a deceptively complex melody and “Keep My Matches Dry” has one of the most unassumingly powerful jibes of this election season. When the proceedings go a little lush, they result in something like “She Was A Question”, the sort of Scott Walker homage so close to the original that it’s hard to believe it’s not a cover of some hidden track on Scott 2.

If you are someone who is not already beholden to a specific strain of almost jarringly human, solemn song storytelling, August Wells may not exactly throw a wrench in your taste profile. However, if you are someone with a perpetual soft spot for subtly baroque songs with a deep well of empathy and passion, then you’ll want to familiarize yourself with Madness is the Mercy, pronto.

7
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Television

'Everything's Gonna Be Okay' Is  Better Than Okay

The first season of Freeform's Everything's Gonna Be Okay is a funny, big-hearted love letter to family.

Music

Jordan Rakei Breathes New Life Into Soul Music

Jordan Rakei is a restless artistic spirit who brings R&B, jazz, hip-hop, and pop craft into his sumptuous, warm music. Rakei discusses his latest album and new music he's working on that will sound completely different from everything he's done so far.

Reviews

Country Music's John Anderson Counts the 'Years'

John Anderson, who continues to possess one of country music's all-time great voices, contemplates life, love, mortality, and resilience on Years.

Music

Rory Block's 'Prove It on Me' Pays Tribute to Women's Blues

The songs on Rory Block's Prove It on Me express the strength of female artists despite their circumstances as second class citizens in both the musical world and larger American society.

Music

The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 3, Echo & the Bunnymen to Lizzy Mercier Descloux

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part three with Echo & the Bunnymen, Cabaret Voltaire, Pere Ubu and more.

Books

Wendy Carlos: Musical Pioneer, Reluctant Icon

Amanda Sewell's vastly informative new biography on musical trailblazer Wendy Carlos is both reverent and honest.

Music

British Folk Duo Orpine Share Blissful New Song "Two Rivers" (premiere)

Orpine's "Two Rivers" is a gently undulating, understated folk song that provides a welcome reminder of the enduring majesty of nature.

Music

Blesson Roy Gets "In Tune With the Moon" (premiere)

Terry Borden was a member of slowcore pioneers Idaho and a member of Pete Yorn's band. Now he readies the debut of Blesson Roy and shares "In Tune With the Moon".

Books

In 'Wandering Dixie', Discovering the Jewish South Is Part of Discovering Self

Sue Eisenfeld's Wandering Dixie is not only a collection of dispatches from the lost Jewish South but also a journey of self-discovery.

Music

Bill Withers and the Curse of the Black Genius

"Lean on Me" singer-songwriter Bill Withers was the voice of morality in an industry without honor. It's amazing he lasted this long.

Film

Jeff Baena Explores the Intensity of Mental Illness in His Mystery, 'Horse Girl'

Co-writer and star Alison Brie's unreliable narrator in Jeff Baena's Horse Girl makes for a compelling story about spiraling into mental illness.

Music

Pokey LaFarge Hits 'Rock Bottom' on His Way Up

Americana's Pokey LaFarge performs music in front of an audience as a way of conquering his personal demons on Rock Bottom.

Music

Joni Mitchell's 'Shine' Is More Timely and Apt Than Ever

Joni Mitchell's 2007 eco-nightmare opus, Shine is more timely and apt than ever, and it's out on vinyl for the first time.

Music

'Live at Carnegie Hall' Captures Bill Withers at His Grittiest and Most Introspective

Bill Withers' Live at Carnegie Hall manages to feel both exceptionally funky and like a new level of grown-up pop music for its time.

Music

Dual Identities and the Iranian Diaspora: Sepehr Debuts 'Shaytoon'

Electronic producer Sepehr discusses his debut album releasing Friday, sparing no detail on life in the Iranian diaspora, the experiences of being raised by ABBA-loving Persian rug traders, and the illegal music stores that still litter modern Iran.

Television

From the Enterprise to the Discovery: The Decline and Fall of Utopian Technology and the Liberal Dream

The technology and liberalism of recent series such as Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and the latest Doctor Who series have more in common with Harry Potter's childish wand-waving than Gene Roddenberry's original techno-utopian dream.

Music

The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 2, The B-52's to Magazine

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part two with the Cure, Mission of Burma, the B-52's and more.

Music

Emily Keener's "Boats" Examines Our Most Treasured Relationships (premiere)

Folk artist Emily Keener's "Boats" offers a warm look back on the road traveled so far—a heartening reflection for our troubled times.

Music

Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".

Games

On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.