Holy Sons Criminal’s Return

[Important; 2009]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: stoner post-rock and lo-fi singer/songwriter
Others: Grails, Will Oldham

From the initial recorded sound of waves splashing softly on the beach to the raucous, swaying send off that closes Criminal’s Return, Emil Amos’ latest effort as Holy Sons meets, exceeds, and occasionally frustrates expectations. Oddly enough, that’s probably the exact reaction Amos anticipated when recording the album, his third of last year. In April, Amos released Drifter’s Sympathy, his collaboration with Japanese noise guru, Merzbow, and then in September, God is Good, his first studio album working with Al Cisneros from Om, hit the streets. 2008 saw two releases as the drummer in Grails, while 2007 featured another Grails LP and a brief stint arranging and mixing Yellow Swans’ At All Ends.

Clearly, Amos is prolific and ostensibly a bit restless. It would seem that he’s labored hard to avoid establishing a set pattern or fixing on any one reference for too long. Where Grails are known for expanding the epic quality of post-rock and reinvigorating what had become a platitudinous genre, Amos’ focus with Holy Sons has remained somewhat conventional and direct. In interviews, he’s described the solo project as therapeutic, suggesting that it’s in the return to the basics of lo-fi 4-track recording that his creativity finds rebirth.

Assuming that’s true, then these songs capture the essence of that strategy rather well. In fact, the 10 songs that make up Criminal’s Return seemingly chart a different path to that same fountain of renewal, but they do so in such beguiling ways. “Arranged Release” for example, resurrects the surf-rock of The Ventures, only slowed down and played with a haunting reverb. “Fermenting Mind” echoes Beck’s twisted brand of confessional hip-hop, and “Possession” incorporates an eccentric, Syd Barrett-styled monologue. These are not influences per se, only colors on a palette Amos uses to paint a broad sunset landscape of the American West.

If the songs themselves call to mind a painting, then the lyrics read like a well-crafted journal. They are ground in the painful truths of real experience, rather than puerile observations born of marijuana smoke and philosophical pondering. Always the realist, Amos describes life as a series of events that can easily fracture and erode an individual’s resolve. To this observation, he adds neither hollow encouragement nor piercing insight. Instead, he commiserates and admits that he also grows tired of putting the pieces back together. In a sense, he’s so successful at identifying with his listeners that he seems to stand outside his own work, gazing back at it, unable to look away: “I crane my neck against my will/ If life is dark comedy, it mocks me still/ This road I’m on is full of wrecks/ And I can’t seem to turn my head away.”

The twin title tracks “Criminal’s Return, Parts I and II” that frame the second side feature such skillfully mocked effects, layered in such a way that it’s hard to believe they were recorded without the benefit of expensive studio equipment. Their roomy feel begs for a wide-open space to range in, but unlike his work in Grails, Amos uses Holy Sons to explore smaller places. The intent is not on extending the borders of post-rock or any other genre as much as it is to elucidate whatever dark corners Amos decides to investigate. Not quite as good as 2003’s I Want to Live a Peaceful Life, but still worth experiencing, Criminal’s Return finds Amos doing what he does best on his own: observing and recording.

Links: Holy Sons - Important

Most Read