Music

Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter: Like, Love, Lust & The Open Halls of the Soul

The year seems too young for there to be so many incredible new records, but Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter have a sure masterpiece on their hands.


Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter

Like, Love, Lust & The Open Halls Of The Soul

Label: Barsuk
US Release Date: 2007-02-06
UK Release Date: 2007-02-05
Amazon
iTunes

In preparation for this review, I reacquainted myself with Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter’s previous release, 2004’s Oh My Girl, as I drove up a dreary, snow-swept highway corridor just as the sun was coming up. It was perfect. That record, Sykes’s second, was substantial if monochromatic, the band spinning endless variations on languid, frostbit country. And so I felt the same as I did when it was first released, impressed but overwhelmed by the pervasive gloom. Not so with Like, Love, Lust & The Open Halls of the Soul, which maintains the power and conviction of its predecessor while expanding the band’s slow-country sound to incorporate driving rock, hushed log-cabin folk and everything in between. Still evoking desolate plains and the more desperate corners of Americana, Like, Love, Lust is nonetheless an exciting, invigorating listen, vaulting Sykes and crew further ahead of the progressive-country field.

The late-night, whispered opener, “Eisenhower Moon” would appear to pick up where Oh My Girl left off -- at least in terms of its humble, stripped down arrangement. But where that record relied almost exclusively on Phil Wandscher’s narcotic guitar leads for atmosphere, Like, Love, Lust brings changes it up on almost every track. “Eisenhower Moon” utilizes a mournful harmonica and a few piano chords to construct a mood behind Sykes’s distinctive voice. And what a voice -- it can’t help but be the focus regardless of what musical setting accompanies, a haunting wood-grained rasp that sounds forever as if it’s wafting through beaded curtains or from a patch of soft, sacred earth. “Tell me what you need to see/ Half sadness and half fury,” she sings, identifying two emotional elements seemingly inseparable from her voice. On “LLL”, she booms her voice over a stuttering rock rhythm, echoes trailing off into the shadows. The band stomps with Crazy Horse bluster, then reins it in while a ghostly, cooing chorus of female harmonies drifts by. The song, like the album its title abbreviates, is full of lovingly and thoughtfully constructed twists and turns.

“You Might Walk Away” is a definite twist: a poppy, hand-clap and sound-effect laden tune, an epicurean counterpart to the stoicism of “Winter Hunter” and “Tell the Boys”. “At the reservoir following the narrow path of light/ What keeps us coming back for more is always out of sight," Sykes sings brightly of a rainy hike in the woods, and asking “Don’t you wish that someone wanted you that way today?” It’s not the album’s strongest song, but its spirited jauntiness keeps the record moving and unpredictable, providing needed contrast with more familiar Sykesian material like “Spectral Beings”. That song is populated by great celestial chorused sighs, cellos and pedal steel stretched like snow clouds across the sky, its powers more likely to be felt on an album of diverse company. Sykes’s voice, again just a wisp above susurration, cuts through with authority, “The tender part of the hologram/ The lights went off/ Came on again.” The song is not only about a séance, it is a séance -- its reverent gasps and transcendentalism all pushing towards the question, “Where is the one I’ve loved so long?”, imbuing that simple question with palpable emotion.

But just as “Spectral Beings” fades into the ether, another uncharacteristic song sashays onto the stage as counterpoint, this time the clomping, swaggering “How Will We Know?” The song borrows a bit of the same philosophical musing, a few breathy sighs, but adds a whole lot of racket, from organ to jingling bells, to the sassy twang of bent guitar strings. “Aftermath” is a watery lament whose jazzy, creative chord changes wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Lambchop’s Is a Woman. “It’s better not to give yourself away/ Away too soon...,” Sykes offers before a tide of horns washes in. But just as soon as the brass signals the barest hint of climax, the song is over, becoming a strange, hungover interlude before the tangled guitar figure of the uptempo “Station Grey”. It’s hard to resist the temptation of writing about every song on Like, Love, Lust, as there is zero dead weight—no song feels out of place or redundant. It’s clear early on that the record is something special. Like Trace, Being There, and Heartbreaker before it, Like, Love, Lust & The Open Halls of the Soul is the result of its creators ramping up their game, taking on a variety of styles to deliver, in the end, their singular artistic declaration to hopefully stick around for a long, long time.

8

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

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

rating-image