No Kings: the name of the label itself signifies quality. From Lee Noble and Motion Sickness of Time Travel to Dan Svizeny and Secret Birds, No Kings’ lo-fi, half-reclaimed National Geographic/half-deco artwork and aesthetics of longing and happiness found in dark, sketchy places provide many a beautiful piece of tape.
Stephen Molyneux is no exception. His folk ballads are visceral and tactile, aided in part by the stark recording conditions (a single microphone, according to the website). On Side A, Molyneux squeezes seven songs into 11 minutes. Saving no breath, he allows the steady strum of his guitar to dictate the pace by which the tape progresses. His voice, the only other instrument present (for a while), mesmerizes with its unapologetic imperfections and boldly audible lyrics. Pairing folk images of ghosts, mountains, gold mines, legendary characters, and fruitless journeys, Molyneux is charming and engaging in his vocal delivery.
When “Of Ghosts” appears at the end of Side A, it signals — via time-tortured organ chords — the transition from the oddly jubilant air of discovery to the cold reflection on death of Side B. Here, the tape hiss threatens to overwhelm Molyneux’s singing, which is reduced to barely a gasp in a silent attic. Just as the rivers of Tennessee provides life and sunlight — birds, delicate beauty — straying far from it can lead to wasteland. There is recovery from the darkness in “Of Labor,” which is perhaps a darkly tongue-in-cheek eulogy to the hopelessness of rural poverty, where work and toil are only ever substituted by sleep.