Indie and underground music is no stranger to the Folk Side. Bands mixing acoustic blues and roots sounds with their own has been a staple of pop music history. Yet the new millennium saw the rise in a new genre neo-roots music, “folk punk.” This contemporary folk revival marries punk rock’s DIY recording ethic and often themes of youthful malaise or political disenchantment with acoustic, and often uncommon or even outlandish instruments, and even a penchant for creative covers which nearly force contemporary anthems into the public domain. Some of this genre’s most honored godfathers include Pat “The Bunny” Schneeweis (Wingnut Dishwashers Union, Ramshackle Glory) and the late Erik Peterson (Mischief Brew), and its popularity extends even into today with bands such as Days ‘n Daze, Chuck Regan (of Hot Water Music fame), and The Taxpayers.
However, Selfhelpme brings us something different, taking revivalist folk a step or two back into the past.
Channeling the spirits of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and the ‘50s/’60s folk boom as a whole, artist JD Perry (of pop-punk group Valencia) brings us a brief collection of songs that feel ancient and modern all at once. Yet this recording is something more. There is a somehow devilish, macabre vibe to it all – something deeply unsettling. The best I can compare it to is this: a band of scary, spooky skeletons murmuring forgotten songs into some long midnight. Yet there is so much beauty in its darkness.
Aptly titled The Road, the album feels like a journey: through time, through the landscape of human experience. Though a common thread in both the ‘50s/’60s and today’s folk revivals, overtly social or political language is found lacking in Selfhelpme’s debut. Instead, the songs compiled here reflect a more personal journey, essentially transforming experience and emotion into steam. The tracks are vaporous, moving through the air like clouds and taking whatever form the listener perceives. On one hand, a social ear to the ground might have benefited the album, as it would have shown a deeper understanding of the genre’s roots in protest and commentary. On the other, its lack thereof doesn’t take from the work’s overall power to move and inspire listeners nonetheless.
It’s also worth noting the way the album was recorded as well. To call the work lo-fi would be a disservice to the overall listening experience. It’s rife with white noise, along with all the crackles and pops of an old vinyl record, as though the album were pulled from someone’s attic. Yet the aged sound never feels artificial. It isn’t pretentious or facetious in its attempt. It never feels overdone. Instead, it is subtle, only adding a slight flavor to the mix, thus giving the listener a sense of timelessness.
In crafting this archaic sound, Perry paints a collage of sonic images which all hark back to a less complicated age. There is no romanticizing of the past, mind you, at least not blatantly. It’s more like an appreciation of the unvarnished. It illustrates an existence uncomplicated by capitalism, industry, and other headache-inducing miracles of modernity. It is the music of quiet reflection on the dusty road of existence.
Consider the words of Pete Seeger: “Any darn fool can make something complex; it takes a genius to make something simple.” In this sense, The Road is a triumphant whisper in a time awash in victorious overreactions. One can only hope it is a whisper loud enough that people can hear.
Listen to The Road on Know Hope Records’ Bandcap page.