Monday, February 1, 2010

35. “While You Were Sleeping” by Elvis Perkins (2007)

“While you were sleeping, your babies grew, the stars shined and the shadows moved.
Time flew, the phone rang, there was a silence when the kitchen sang.
Songs competed like kids for space.
We stared for hours at our makers’ face.
They gave us picks, said, "Go mine the sun, and go gold and come back when you’re done".

The most obvious difference in the music of the aughts compared to music at any other point in time is the instant accessibility of the songs. Half finished songs are leaked, albums are leaked out of sequence, bands are anointed The Next Big Thing before they’ve been together long enough to get a proper album and tour together and, most importantly, the sheer volume of music available right now makes everything somewhat disposable, especially if the listener has gotten that music for free. There are good and bad things to all of this, obviously, but it leaves music fans is the weird position of not being able to really separate average from good from excellent. Over time, the great ones stick around and reveal themselves, but many of today’s current recordings are blending into one another. And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead addresses this in their 2005 song, “Worlds Apart”:

“Random lost souls ask me ‘what’s the future of rock n roll’ I say, ‘I don’t know. Does it matter? Doesn’t it seem to sound all same to me, neither much worse nor much better?”

With all of the having been said, I am here to report to you that Elvis Perkins is the real deal. After his debut album, Ash Wednesday, on which “While You Were Sleeping” sits as the opening track, it was easy to be impressed with the songs and his songwriting. But the songs grew on you with repeated listens and then he released the follow-up, In Dearland, which found him expanding on that sound, churning out fantastic song after fantastic song and really separating himself from the aforementioned group of nice bands that fade away after five listens.

“So I waited for the riddled sky to be solved again by the sunrise.
I made a death-soup for life, for my father`s Ill widowed wife.”

“While You Were Sleeping” uses the standard singer-songwriter template that has grown somewhat tired over the last ten years, but there’s some real depth to the song – the vocals, the delivery of the lyrics – that allows it to transcend that. It could be the emotional weight of the lyrics, what with his father, Anthony Perkins, dying of AIDS in the 1990s and his mom dying on September 11th, but there’s this real meditative aspect to this song that makes its weight palatable and enjoyable. Obviously Elvis goes for that timeless sound that Prine and Dylan and all their blues and gospel predecessors nailed -- and it works. And in the live setting, Elvis is charismatic and magnetic, commanding the scene and making you take notice. He pretty much blew me away at Newport this year. See if he does the same for you.

“Did you have that strangest dream before you woke? `Cause in your gown you had the butterfly stroke. Did it escape you like some half-told joke when you reached for your plume of smoke?”

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