Tom Brosseau Empty Houses Are Lonely

[FatCat; 2006]

Styles: acoustic folk-blues with nary a fleck of freak
Others: Whip, Denison Witmer, Micah Blue Smaldone, Normanoak, Hayden, Mirah

Summing up the bare-cupboard solitude of his psyche aptly, Tom Brosseau knits jagged yarns without a thimble on Empty Houses Are Lonely, entreating the listener to follow a blood-red thread of doubt and longing. Most indicative of the North Dakota native's subdued brand of maudlin is the following, likely directed at a shrew trying to pull a power play: "You don't own my favorite things/ You don't own the whole, wide world/ Soon, my heart will wither and die/ What will you do with it then, my dear?"

From there, Brosseau's phrase forms a swaying bridge that links each song together like the islands of the Florida keys, communicating his deep-sea doubts with a hint of hope fraying the edges. The album's moniker couldn't be more revealing; words such as "lonely," "worry," and "broken" carry the weight of his prose on their slumped shoulders, a push-pull duality portraying Brosseau as simultaneously content, depressed, vulnerable, hesitant, optimistic, fragile as a glass urn, and, more than anything, manically expressive, though he holds back just enough to keep one curious at the experiences that cause him to dub himself an "old dog" that "doesn't trick too well." He also, incidentally, can't control "where to throw" his warbly voice, and he swears it ain't his choice.

Predominantly stark, Empty Houses is bereft of life save A Guy and His Guitar, leaving its principle protagonist a lot of room to stretch his dogs. With almost too much breadth in which to bury his observations, Brosseau barely manages to maintain our interest through ten tracks. His lyrics — solid, soulful, sometimes strident — and naked arrangements don't vary in mood too often, but just when you're ready to pass him off as a one-note noodler, a striking song like "Hurt to Try" swirls and strokes the omnipresent guitars with a twinkling synth bed and, god forbid, drums.

Seeing as Empty Houses consists of numbers pulled from Brosseau's triad of past LPs, its ebbs and crests are not unexpected. In fact, the cohesion of the collection is surprising, as no single song sounds removed from the plaintive, pared-down tug of the rest of the album. "Dark Garage" finds our protagonist huffing into a harmonica and hosting a tap-tap-y rhythm, but like "Hurt to Try," its extra rudders and spoilers don't separate it from the other salty models lined up on the showroom floor like boats tied to a teetering dock or sleeping bats filed away in an otherwise barren belfry.

Sadness soused in suffering is all too commonplace in the folk fold, which is perhaps the motivation behind the indie community's love for gleeful banshees Animal Collective and one Bruther Danielson. Brosseau gift-wraps his mourning glory in enough lace to satisfy on a hungover Sunday morning when the shades are drawn, but Empty Houses Are Lonely falls flat in the face of newfound promise and infinite possibility. Depending on where life finds you, his lamentations could come across as either utterly uplifting or the equivalent of a speeding car roaring into a sudden and awkward downshift, the listener unwillingly joining Brosseau in a spiraling toilet-bowl descent.

1. Fragile Mind
2. Everybody Knows Empty Houses Are Lonely
3. Hurt To Try
4. More Anne
5. Dark Garage
6. Heart Of Mine
7. The Broken Ukulele
8. How To Grow A Woman From The Ground
9. Lonesome Valley
10. Bars

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