Finally getting an official release in this country, Elvis Perkins Ash Wednesday had a difficult birth. Firstly his father died of AIDS in 1992 and then his mother died whilst on board one of the flights that crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11th. With his dark and melancholic take on Americana and folk it’s not hard to see why the US blogs were going mad over this album last year. The heartfelt lyrics, the ripples of sadness and a voice that sounds like a relation to Rufus Wainwright, but without the unnecessary warbling, it all adds up to a debut of startling orginality.
The album begins with While You Were Sleeping, a song which has spread across the internet and become an alternative anthem. A beautiful song that describes those special individual moments where you creep around the house, or go for a walk, when no-one else is about and viewing the world your way. The music sweeps and flirts across the words, the acoustic guitar and drums woven around a double bass and brass, ending with a haunting backdrop of children’s vocals repeating “oh oh”. This sets the standard pretty high for the rest of the album and, only infrequently, does it dip from this high. The jazz infused double bass adds an boost of energy to the broken hearted ballad of All The Night Without You whilst May Day! rollicks along like an extra from The Beatles Revolver, a pop song celebrating meeting your partner on a crazy day and reveling in a mad atmosphere: “And all the sorrows seem to go away”. It’s Only Me sounds suspiciously like the opening track but the images conjured up of a dream where Perkins seems to be speaking to someone no longer with him (his mother? his father?), with it’s repeated line of “It’s only me, it’s only me” as if to ease the fear of seeing a ghostly spectre in front of him. The rest of the album continues in this vein, the affecting lyrics accompanied by Perkins’ emotional voice that, at times, can become a little too honest to listen to. The album ends with Good Friday, an alternative gospel song which brings to mind The Blue Nile at their most personal. The lyrics sung with a voice wracked with sadness, female vocals some in towards the end, sounding angelic and accompanied by a piano. It’s just so mesmerising, that, in equal measures, you can’t wait for it to be over and yet hope it never ends.
Whilst the album could benefit from more upbeat songs just to ease the emotional trauma a little, it would probably disturb the overall feel of the album. It’s not an easy listen and Perkins has to be congratulated on writing these feelings down and opening them up to the world. And, in the end, that’s what makes this such a special album. Without people making music like this, the world would be a much less involving place. Let’s just hope that he doesn’t need such adversity to be creative.