It always pays to have a plan. Stuart Pearson has a plan. Not only does he have a plan, but he is just about to drop the final piece of that three-part plan into place. It all started with his album entitled Dark Americana: Stories and Songs, a sort of sonic mythology for an alternative American, a soundscape where murder ballads and folk noir sit side by side with the imagery of Andrew Wyeth and Edward Hopper.
Mojave was the second album in this Dark Americana series, a more modern take on those same dark and delicious vibes, and an album that makes for natural musical travelling companions for the hallowed trinity of Waits, Cave and Cohen. And now, the final instalment, American Gothic, finishes this sultry set.
And right from the off, you know that you are back in Pearson’s blasted land; We Are The Falling Rain is a slowly evolving tune that ebbs and flows between stomping beats and squalling violins and almost unaccompanied vocal stabs, the music sometimes breaking into more recognisable song structures, though more often than not content to remain an apocalyptic chain-gang blues dirge. Welcome back, folks!
But, just to prove that he is someone able to wander across style and sound, genre and even expectation, Ticking Away is built as much from shimmering mandolins as it is from the more expected resonant and hellbound guitars. The result is a cool blend of folk and blues, the acoustic and the electric worlds, sweet and sour, time and tide, and finally, creativity and chaos as the song seems to devour itself before fading away on the harsh winds. Lochinvar toys with Tex-Mex tones and heavenly choirs, evocative and nostalgic guitar twangs and 60’s chamber pop backing vocal inclusions.
I’m not sure what’s going on with Hunter Lowry, but it seems that whenever she is involved in the writing, things take a turn for the more musically chilling. Take the haunted nursery rhyme/serial killer sing-along that is Where Are You; all I can say is don’t listen to this if you are alone in your house. (Checks that the front door is locked) Similarly, The Abandoned Carousel is the sort of narrative people tell each other around nighttime campfires to scare the bejesus out of each other. (Makes sure the windows are all secured.) Still, Pearson only has himself to blame; after all, he married her!
And whilst we are in that ball park, also falling in to the section marked creepy as hell is Runaway Girl is a song possessed. (Turns all the lights on in the house.)
There are a few songs that we are already familiar with. The Devil Whammy runs on more groove than what has gone before, and I have already described it as being like The Macarena for goths or a Gagnam-style dirge-disco tune for the recently undead as performed by The B52’s in a terrible mood; I shall just repeat myself as that pretty much sums things up.
We’ll Meet Again pulsates and prowls, slithers and sneaks through the musical landscape, probably just outside of Paris, Texas, at a point where it intersects with the third circle of hell (the circle designated for boy bands and gangsta rappers, I believe.) Its fuel source is a relentless and restless bassline and spacious beat acting as a device to not only propel the song forward but upon which Pearson can hang the occasional riffs and motif, and so hypnotising is that backbeat that he only does this sparingly. We know that less is more, and so it should logically follow that this much less is so much more. And it does.
3 Feet From A Vein is a gorgeous song, the tale of a miner whose life ends just as he was so close to hitting the motherlode, I think. It is also an epic soundscape, one that takes in repetitious banjo swirls, beats built of the sounds of back-breaking work and vocal washes that Ennio Morricone or Dark Side of the Moon era Pink Floyd would have chased you down the street to get their hands on.
The album rounds off with One Old Coyote, a song that sashays and slides towards the listener, a fractured love ballad, a song of loneliness and belief, mortality and longing. A song built of gentle shards of guitar, fleeting and floating violins and scrapped cellos. Music made for the last waltz at the end of time, a lovely and heartfelt way to round things off.
One of the great things about artists who are capable of whipping up such a fantastic sonic storm as this is that the lack of ease with which they are neatly categorised means that you can have fun inventing genres and outrageous labels for them. I mean, listen to any track found here, anything with Stuart Pearson at the helm really, and you come up with genres like Voodoo Swamp Rock, Shamanic Dustbowl Blues, Western Psychoboogie and Apocalyptic Punk, none of which means anything, in particular, all of which are wonderfully apt, the very definition of deep and meaningless. And such are the limitations of genres and labels.
But seriously, there is something in his music that is so cinematic, often epic, that the songs feel as if they should be playing as the credits roll on the film of the year, possibly with a group of criminals having beaten the corrupt system drive off with their ill-gotten gains into the sunset… written by H.P. Lovecraft. Play American Gothic and tell me that you wouldn’t watch the movie that this would be the soundtrack to.
Stuart Pearson doesn’t just make albums; he builds alternative musical worlds. Worlds which seem to border our own in places, not just geographically but chronologically too. His musical hinterlands are populated with fallen heroes and failed explorers, the botched and the bungled, those looking for redemption and those beyond its reach, the profound and the profane, the real and the make-believe, the what never was and the what might one day be. Strange worlds where fairy tales and mythos co-exist with reality and remembrance. They are fantastic and unbelievable, but I sure as hell wouldn’t want to live there!