Elvis Perkins (from the album Creation Myths available on MIR/Petaluma Records) (by Chris Wheatley)
There's something fitting in the fact that folk singer-songwriter Elvis Perkins is distantly related to Giovanni Schiaparelli, the Italian astronomer who became convinced that he had discovered evidence of canals on Mars. Schiaparelli's assertions influenced a host of early science fiction writers including, most famously, H. G. Wells. What is music if not storytelling, and what grand flights of imagination resulted from Schiaparelli's ultimately flawed observations? Perkins, of course, comes from a family of creatives, his father being no less than the actor Anthony Perkins. Relatives aside, Elvis is a fine, fine artist in his own right and Creation Myths, Perkins' fifth album since his 2007 debut Ash Wednesday, makes for an intriguing prospect.
For this new project, Elvis Perkins chose to look backwards, revisiting old material which has never seen the light of day. ‘The long and short of it’ he explains, with tongue in cheek ‘is that these songs were all written long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away’. These songs ‘very well could have comprised what would have been my very first record, and yet the fates had a different say about how life would go’. Whatever the reason these tracks never made it to the studio (some, says Perkins, lived on only as poor-quality live recordings from an open-mic night) they have evidently nagged at the back of his mind. Unfinished business, you might say, just waiting for the right time to come along.
Opener “Sing Sing” should dispel any doubts you might have. It unwinds as a fuzzy, spectral and decidedly psychedelic lament. Soft drums, beautifully understated strings and delicate bass expand and contract, a slow-moving merry-go-round of warbling keys and synth sounds. At heart, though, Elvis Perkins is a fine songwriter. There is no excess here. ‘Where are you bound, what does your sign say?’ he sings, with a sweet, yet highly affecting voice. Comparisons to late-era Beatles or Nick Drake are inevitable, but Perkins is very much his own man. “Sing Sing” is a fantastic cut, representative of the album as a whole. It is a journey in itself, one where there is a new wonder around every corner.
“I Know You Know” is gentle, yet somehow slightly warped Americana, with spooky slide guitar and soft piano. This strange, yet ultimately familiar soundscape feels perfect for modern times. The pull between solid ground and wide-open sky, between the reassuringly familiar and uncertain possibilities, is mesmerizing and somewhat disconcerting, in a pleasant way. A potent cocktail which goes straight to your head, Perkins injects heart, honesty and raw humour into every second. The lovely, lovingly arranged “Iris” is full of almost unbearable longing, the bitter-sweetness of forlorn love. The sparse and ghostly “Anonymous” puts one in mind of Bill Frisell's Turner-esque musical masterpieces. Again, though, it would be a crime not to say that Elvis Perkins is a true originator. The arrangements throughout this album are impressive. Each song is possessed of enough unexpected delights and nuanced shifts in tone to warrant repeated listens.
As Elvis Perkins himself would point out, returning to old work, especially from very early in one's career, can be a daunting prospect, like gazing into a magic mirror which reveals your true self from years past, in unflinching detail. ‘There was maybe a naive quality to the songs’ he says ‘but they didn’t feel immature or half-baked. I was lucky that the right sensibilities were there, and that I wasn’t alone in feeling like these songs were worth the air they were going to take up in someone’s room or car or house’. These are the words of a clearly dedicated and conscientious musician. Does Creation Mythsdeserve a place in your airspace? For this reviewer, the answer is a resounding 'yes'. (by Chris Wheatley)
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