He returned from long years of war accompanied by a concubine whose prophecies of doom neither he nor anyone else believed. Washing the dust from his scarred body, he donned a fresh shirt — to find himself enmeshed in a darkness of sleeves sutured shut, as the axe blows of his wife and her lover descended…
As a voyeuristic child, I was captivated by Roger Lancelyn Green’s description of the gruesome death of Agamemnon, hero of Troy, nourished as I was on a diet of classics that was also a diet of worms. The tale has stayed with me, unearthed at times by chance references, such as that of Blackout Beach’s Carey Mercer in Blues Trip’s “Broken Braying Sound of the Donkey’s Cry.” I didn’t realize then that Agamemnon would have a strange and significant afterlife. His spectre is both physical, in the death mask discovered by Heinrich Schliemann, and psychic, in the neo-Freudian selves we take ourselves to be, heirs to an Electra Complex and thus heirs to Agamemnon’s heiress herself.
Likewise, Blues Trip is a strange afterlife, a rockier reinterpretation of 2011’s Fuck Death. It maintains that album’s agonized, semi-sinister, literate palette, but panned for gold, producing a sound looser yet more highly strung (“Cloud of Evil,” from 2009’s Skin of Evil, sneaks in too). Discussing the album’s conception, Mercer strings together images — sweet horrible liquid on the dusty trail, lacking the ferry toll, an honorable man (like the Greeks)… the plasticity of the mind, and on Blues Trip, we have likewise the plasticity of music — in a paradoxical removal of the plastic-synthetic tones that predominated on Fuck Death. It now becomes apparent that on the former album the expression of emotion was mediated, expressed with a certain froideur, but no less intense for that. And so it is only Blues Trip, as a document, that provides a lens revealing that fact (a lens that thus removes itself), a ripping off of already-visceral blood-soaked linen to reveal the wound beneath.
After learning about the concept, I wasn’t so much a wonderstruck child as a skeptical critic, an if-it’s-not-broke mutterer (about an album that was, if it was anything, a record of brokenness), a faithful child of the 80s snarling at the rot of rockism spreading into every dark corner. How shortsighted, when I could simply allow Mercer’s voice to transmute from delicate to raw; experience “Deserter’s Song” mutate from solemn Cohen-esque vignette to trotting prairie lament; or luxuriate in ringing, agonized-yet-jubilating moments that recall Bowie’s Berlin period or Scott Walker circa Nite Flights.
“Agamemnon is smiling,” indeed, or his mediated representation is — and it’s gold. Not so much unfuck the world, then — since we’re somewhere between this world and the next — as unfuck death.