Papa M Hole of Burning Alms

[Drag City; 2004]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: indie rock, experimental rock, slowcore
Others: Sonic Youth, Pedro the Lion, Leonard Cohen, Tortoise, Slint

I have an mp3 player in my car, and I change the disc constantly; so, I've trained myself to not try to predict what will be on when I get in. This has led my brain to very quickly and efficiently recognize a song, regardless of what point it's at. So I thought little of it when, in a series of listens this afternoon, I heard Pedro the Lion, Sonic Youth, Blur, and even Jim O'Rourke in rapid succession. But then I noticed this strange trend, and quickly discovered all of those sounds were in fact courtesy of Papa M's newest release, Hole of Burning Alms, a compilation of singles from the late '90s. Probably not what you expected out of Papa M? Yeah, me neither. I thought the name was codified to mean almost alt-country or at least mournful vocals over acoustic guitar. Did I fail to mention this album is almost entirely instrumental?

While it's not what we (the audience) may have expected, I guess we shouldn't be shocked either, especially considering David Pajo's background. He's been a member of Slint, Zwan, and Tortoise. He's worked with Mogwai and Matmos. The guy is everywhere. So, he's finally put together a record that nods to every quadrant of his repertoire and does so quite well. Even within songs, the sound will morph from synth-driven electro to reverb-laced guitars to sparingly plucked acoustic guitar over the sounds of a nocturnal forest. Moreover, Hole of Burning Alms forms a coherent whole with an overarching theme. The album cover, which bears the muddled and obscured image of a naked woman, indicates a theme of reserved nudity and openness. Pajo hesitantly reveals his influences and makes them act as a framework for his own creative stabs and flourishes.

Hole of Burning Alms remains strong from start to finish; the only caveat is the ease in making that journey. The songs are uniformly good, but at times you feel as though you aren't being driven to keep listening in the context of an album, since it is a compilation. But I'll qualify this as a very minor quibble with a very good record. It's rare that you find so much breadth with unfailingly attentive and skilled execution, but perhaps those are along the lines of what we should expect out of Pajo in the future.

1. Safeless
2. Napoleon
3. Vol de Nuit
4. Wedding Song No. 3
5. Mountains Have Ears
6. Vivea
7. Last Caress
8. Travels in Constants
9. Up North Kids No. 2
10. She Said Yes
11. Turn Turn Turn
12. Xmas 1997