Elvis Perkins In Dearland Elvis Perkins In Dearland

[XL; 2009]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: rock/pop singer/songwriter
Others: Benjy Ferree, Van Morrison

Barring the obvious conclusion that, like so many discussions related to one’s appreciation of music, individual taste makes a concrete solution impossible, let’s ponder for a moment the importance of lyrics in pop songcraft. Granted, you’ve got your Darnielles, those whose verbose storytelling is the sole focal point no matter the sonic qualities. But in general, lyrics are shaded by our own impressions and interpretations, a misheard line becomes an existential dispute if left to fester too long and given too much gravity.

And what of the casual listen? What of the melodic or textural qualities that usually illicit the initial attraction? If lyrics form a song’s personality, is a good hook really no more substantial than a killer rack?

With his second LP, Elvis Perkins, an orphan to two of his era’s greatest tragedies -- father Anthony Perkins (Norman Bates in Psycho) died of AIDS in 1992, and mother Berry Berenson, a photographer, died on 9/11 -- keeps his pen trained on matters of finality. But you could figure that out by reading the tracklist. “Hours Last Stand.” “Doomsday.” “123 Goodbye.” You get the picture.

But, much like his 2007 debut, Ash Wednesday, Perkins speaks through characters and, more importantly, though his musical arrangements to present a nuanced approach to musing on mortality and loss and loneliness. And, given a tracklist and the instrumental takes, I’d imagine you’d get much the same message.

Album standout “Doomsday,” filled with vibrant horns and a barrel-chested oom-pah bass line, is a celebratory arrangement -- celebratory like a New Orleans funeral. “Till Doomsday/Fiddle-Aye-Ay” boasts Perkins to a lover he’s forgotten. But simply by evoking a Dixieland jazz band’s lively eulogy, the message is solidified: finality isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The death of one thing is the birth of another. Lyrics are only a corroborative account.
Same for “How’s Forever Been Baby,” a trudging shuffle, dirge-like in its languishing pace and spare ensemble. Piano, light drums, and acoustic guitar stagger along with the speaker. Occasional brass and harmonica evoke the blues. It gives Perkins the perfect soapbox from which to plead “How’s forever been, Baby?” This time he’s got his memory, and maybe this time he’s not so okay with losing someone, but again, the verses rely more on Perkins downcast croon than the actual words he’s crooning. The words don’t hurt. His images are masterfully placed and phrased. But the point’s not lost without them.

And maybe that’s the real mark of a good songwriter, when you can extract pieces without tumbling the tower, even though the combined effort of all those pieces all serve to strengthen the song. Nothing’s wasted, but all that’s necessary is the inspiration.

1. Shampoo
2. Hey
3. Hours Last Stand
4. I Heard Your Voice In Dresden
5. Send My Fond Regards To Lonelyville
6. I’ll Be Arriving
7. Chains, Chains, Chains
8. Doomsday
9. 123 Goodbye
10. How’s Forever Been Baby

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