Black Moth Super Rainbow’s enigmatic members have pursued a number of diverse tangents with their solo efforts, and most of these have proved just as interesting as the original collective’s work. Both Tobacco’s darker electronic forays and Seven Fields of Aphelion’s ethereal wanderings add bold new aspects to the esoteric mystique of the band’s catalog. By comparison, bassist Ryan Graveface’s Dreamend project seems relatively tame. But this is not a bad thing. While his new record, So I Ate Myself, Bite by Bite, offers nothing new in terms of style — previous albums touched on the sparse post-rock championed by Explosions in the Sky, with occasional excursions into the shimmering folk of Iron and Wine’s Sam Beam — its emphasis on theme pushes it far beyond anything we’ve heard from the artist.
The album begins with a description of a young man negotiating the detritus of daily existence. But after the short “Interlude,” the man recants this endless futility and allows his mind to ponder “A Thought,” afterward confessing over and over, “I cannot stop in the middle…” The latter phrase leads to the simple question, stop in the middle of what? The macabre “Pieces” presents the answer, and the album’s theme becomes evident: Graveface’s protagonist commits a brutal murder, and what follows is a depiction of the event in all its gory detail and a very matter-of-fact description of how the fledgling serial killer develops an appetite for more.
Although it’s a distant cousin in terms of genre, Graveface’s new album recalls Leonard Cohen’s ingenuous ability to paint every image essential to a story in vivid, cinematic color. Graveface also evokes Cohen’s gift for sharing a morbid tale, but he distinguishes himself by placing the tale in a wash of golden instrumentation, tempering the brutal honesty that resonates through every facet of the character’s musings and actions. From the sweet tinkling xylophone that opens “Pink Cloud in the Woods” to the honeyed acoustic chords that fill songs like “Pieces” and “Aching Silence,” the wonderfully light music provides the only guard between the audience and the twisted confessions. That seems to be one of Graveface’s points in crafting the piece as he has; sometimes art is the only barrier between lucid existence and utter insanity.
For all its dark and horrific ponderings, So I Ate Myself succeeds in nearly every way. It elucidates the thoughts of a decided anti-hero, and in doing so captures the frustrations of a media-saturated, materialistic generation. On his label site, Graveface pitched this as the first of two volumes, indicating that the next installment would arrive sometime in 2011. With the first, he has clearly surpassed all expectations in the indie-folk field. I can’t wait to see what he does with the second.