Sitting in my apartment, having recently come in from a world touched by spring sun and seemingly full of possibility, I feel completely outside of the context from which Burd Early has emerged with his latest release, Mind and Mother. As clichéd as it might sound, if I were lying by a dying fire or maybe walking down a country road in the middle of the night, I would expect to find great solace in Early’s lament. As it stands, I feel that I can only describe the proceedings and trust that at some unspecified time in the future, Early and I could share a darker moment.
Early’s voice and song arrangements place him squarely in the company of other solemn, earthy singers such as Jason Molina and Will Oldham. His explorations of fear and loss rely heavily on the atmospheric layers of acoustic guitars, slow drums, and whispered vocals. The pace is deliberate, and much like Earl’s view of life itself, the music often builds to no apparent climax. The best example of this ability is “Fertilizer Waiting to Happen”. The guitar lines weave in and out, and his mournful vocals glide like a whisper slightly above the music, which builds steadily towards a refrain that never comes. It’s a subtle manipulation and representative of Early’s ability to effectively lead the listener down the path of loss. Other memorable moments come on the brief respite of “A Love Wants and Has Not”. His vocals rise and fall with more emotion than anywhere else on the album, but at less than a minute-and-a-half in length it leaves the listener somewhat unfulfilled. “Undoing the Day” is effectively aided by backing female voices, a tinkling piano, and a gentle refrain with softy played squeezebox. So, too, “Blackdot” emerges with a memorable guitar and vocal cadence, but a line from that song sums the constricted, stuffy atmosphere of the album taken as a whole: “I felt locked at my room staring outside the window.” The slow drone of the album is broken by moments of beauty, but it is a patient beauty that emerges only of a listener’s dedication to seek it out.
Lyrically, Early paints a picture of a man still feeling out his own path. He is clearly conflicted: “I see everything split in half like I’ve grown to get here” (from “Fertilizer Waiting to Happen”). In “How Far” he asks just that: how far should he go without turning back to ask whether or not he’s on the right track. At times, as in “Blackdot”, he’s “Sitting in this terminal reading other people’s lives” hoping through this to find his own mind and other times he seems resolute in his pointlessness: “When yoke is broken and bleeding, there’s no strength in life’s endurance.” All of this searching and failing and searching again is nicely summed up on one of the album’s most poignant passages, from “Undoing the Day”: “I giggled a little / When the last stroke of light / Erased itself, undoing the day / Like I had something to do with it / And was marveling over this / Grand thing I had unmade.” At times for Early it is as likely that he could set the sun as it is that he could control the smallest facet of his own being. It’s a statement of profound powerlessness unsuited for the promise of spring. Maybe Early will get his due come autumn.