Yea, though the tunnel has been long, dark, and wet; though our Mother Earth cried out in terror and awe at the conception; and despite the presence of vampires and tigers as witnesses; we must all rejoice at the rebirth of Old Time Relijun in Lost Light, for it is the unsanctified sound of a Holy Spirit bellowing at the neutered Hell we’ve made for ourselves. Here follows an accounting of the new clamor bestowed upon us by Arrington de Dionyso.
In the time before a furious persecution of sonic Americans was made under the rule of Bush and Ashcroft, Arrington de Dionyso — raised in Arkansas of God-fearing Methodist lineage — came to Spokane and chose that city for the place of his pilgrimage. Following in the steps of Saint Paul the apostle, he endeavored to labor with his hands in order to provide the necessities of life. Apprenticing himself to a local Master, he learned two Guitar Chords and thereupon exercised the art of busking on street corners. In this art he surpassed all others and took by constraint no reward. Instead, he allowed the Holy Flame to alight upon his brow, traveled to Olympia, and, with two disciples, created Old Time Relijun.
People, listen close: inspired by the blessed Captain Beefheart, the first three albums by Old Time Relijun were trapped between lunacy and paralysis. Oh, they had the Spirit, alright. I would never deny that they had the Spirit. Yet, I do believe Arrington de Dionyso was being tested.
But here, on Lost Light, we have a masterpiece. A new drummer, Rives Elliot, forces some martial focus into the songs. And the loud double bass of Aaron Hartman dips into an eternal stream of threadbare riffs that harkens back to the Velvet Underground. Yet Arrington de Dionyso — his chiming-sliding guitar sound, his feral voice, his fiery eyes and scraggly half-beard — he marks this album and possesses it. I have compared him to Tom Verlaine, I have compared him to Mojo Nixon, but people, this man has finally come into posession of his own voice, a larynx infected with polyps of ecstasy, warbling, growling vibrations of the Spirit.
Sisters and brothers, Lost Light is an astonishing song cycle that centers on the source of our Creation, the holy Canal that brought us here to earth. I will not spell it out, for it is the Secret Parts of Womanhood of which I speak.
We have all been consumed by Lust, even the most saintly among us. Just as a briar clings to our foot in order to spread its seed, just as bear scat will sprout forth with new plants, so it is with Lust. It is unholy, but the Lord has given us unholy attributes in order to beautify the world. Arrington de Dionyso knows this, and when he evokes his Blessed Origin in “The Door I Came Through Has Been Closed (But I Keep Trying)”, we can feel his pain. None of us can climb back into Mother, not until death folds us back into Mother Earth’s soil. But Arrington must walk the streets of the city alone in order to find a lover, and all of us know what that entails. He has taken hold of the thoroughly-kicked corpse of Sigmund Freud and turned it into both a hilarious joke and a beautiful, serious song.
Arrington continues this theme in “Cold Water”, a hypnotic eight-minute sermon that begins with pleading (“Oh please oh please!”), then tumbles down through trees, mud, roots, and rocks before the phrase “I’m going down” gets repeated to obvious effect. Folks, I cannot tell a lie: it’s “cold water” that he seeks. A bracing baptism, a lonely head-dunk. I have sought that cold water myself, when consumed by these demons of Lust.
Rushing past at under two minutes, “Tigers in the Temple” is a paw swiping at your face. “Ten thousand tigers gnashing teeth” have set upon our patron saint, and forced him to walk off the top of a burning tower with a dance partner in his arms. It sounds like a B-movie, but people, he’s got a myth to propagate. Lust and discarded bodies. Then comes “Pardes Rimmonim”, a feral, bass-driven ode to cunnilingus like you’ve never heard before. “Open your gate / Open your door / Open your heart / Open your lips / A total eclipse / Taking sips from holy spirits / The sweetest liquor / Slightly bitter”. Thus comes the “copulation” and a climax of thrusting slide-emulation guitar riffs. I have heard folksy-punk-blues before, but nothing like this.
Oh friends, the album kicks up, and kicks down; it gives us the sweats, it howls and groans, it evokes back-porch Arkansas, whiskey sacraments, and musky thongs. It shows you the demons, smites them, and then shoves your head into icy water. And I will say this to you: “The Rising Water, the Blinding Light” is the epic post-blues anthem we’ve all been awaiting since Zep’s “When the Levee Breaks” turned into an oldie. “Devil and the angels making eyes at each other / They wanna be inside of each other”. At first, guitar strings are bare twigs as Arrington twists and barks this information out to the ether. Then comes the bass. Then drums. Soon we inhabit a propulsive soundscape that is clearly beset by the spirit of Saint Iggy. All of us have inherited the formal conventions of blues, and a virulent strain of “virtuosity” has infected it. I am tempted to recall the spiritual gangrene that plagues me whenever I hear Jon Spencer or Jack White play their instruments. Thus, I must praise the tonic simplicity of Arrington de Dionyso. He takes up the old bodies into his boat, and even without oars he plunges into the roaring flood.
Arrington de Dionyso has not been delivered of his torments. He will likely keep wading into the rising water, just like all of us. But his wonderful creation Lost Light will boil our communal heart in its peculiar kettle, given a wide enough audience. I’m just a cynical record critic, myself, but I was taken aback by these songs. One night, after listening to this disc several times, I dreamed myself an old man, sipping whiskey, stroking my cat, kicking embers to increase the glow, and suddenly out of the blue I heard the feral refrain of “Vampire Victim” (“nape of the neck, nape of the neck!”). I don’t know why, but it fit. This is what demented sonic geniuses are for, right? So set down and absorb these tunes, made by a talented, lusty saint whose steamy micturition this time around is pungent and tainted with blood.