Holy Sons is the solo project of multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriter Emil Amos. In addition to recording under this name since the 90′s, he has been a core member of instrumental psych-rock band Grails and trip-hop band Lilacs & Champagne, as well as the drummer for meditative stoner rock titans, Om.
Released 23 September, 2014 on Thrill Jockey Records
Format: 12″ LP, Translucent Purple, Limited to 500
On the surface, “The Fact Facer” sounds more like a dark take on popular 70’s folk-rock than the obscure 4-track experiments of a loner influenced by LSD and Carl Jung. Crooning piano ballads (“All Too Free”) and anthemic guitar solos (“Life Could Be a Dream”) suggest Holy Sons’ Emil Amos may have left his penchant for deep sonic exploration in his basement as he started to move onto more professional recording methods. However, further listening reveals that Amos never abandoned the diverse musical palette he’s developed over the years, instead he reprioritized.
Rather than burying his songwriting under lo-fi hiss, distortion, and psychedelic atmospheres, Amos has finally allowed his unique brand of self-therapy to rise to the surface for all to hear. This is exemplified most strongly by the album-closing title track. When this song was originally released on “My Only Warm Coals”, a collection from the Holy Sons archives, it featured drums, bass, and layers of tape manipulations, electronics, and vocal samples. This updated version strips all of that, leaving Amos with nothing but his voice and acoustic guitar to hide behind as he confesses: “I’m on various drugs, I need crowd control/ I wouldn’t know if I had sold my soul”.
This is not to say that this album is sparse, by any means. In fact, not one of the 10 songs prior to the closing title-track feature Amos alone with his acoustic guitar. A good headphone listen will reveal tapestries of synths, field recordings, and tripped-out processed instruments ebbing and flowing underneath the album, giving it momentum and cohesion without overpowering the songs. This atmospheric undercurrent allows him to smoothly drift between eastern-influences (from the tabla-driven bridge of “Doomed Myself” to the sitar-like guitar flourishes on “Selfish Thoughts), country-rock dirges (the violin and piano in “No Self Respect”), and electronic dub jams (“Long Days”) without making the listener bat an eye. He is even able to sneak in the occasional drum machine (“Selfish Thoughts, “Wax Gets in Your Eye”) between organic drum sounds without creating the jarring contrast that existed when he did the same on previous albums. Venturing into hi-fi recording has given him the tools he needs to harness his wide range of sounds and influences to create something more cohesive than anything he’s ever released.
Despite any changes in structure, fidelity, or instrumentation, it is clear that Amos still makes his music for the same therapeutic purposes that he had 20 years ago. From the opening lines “I’ve doomed myself, I’ve cut myself out of the deal”, he deals with the same feeling of unexplainable, looming dread that one could expect from a modern day Franz Kafka. Like any Kafka story, Amos’ words are the surreal, 3 a.m. musings of an anxious introvert that would rather retreat to the dark but comfortable caverns of his mind than deal with the pressures of the external world. “I don’t have no self-respect…When people try to make me feel bad/I guess I’ll never be just what I am, but I am” (“No Self-Respect”). It is easy to have low self-esteem when living in a world that is quick to judge based on appearances or income; at least when you’re alone in the middle of the night you can create your own inner world where you can truly be yourself and live up to your own standards. After all, “Life Could be a Dream” so who’s to say that this internal world is any less real or important than the outer world?
I highly recommend this album to any nocturnal introverts looking for a dark singer-songwriter to accompany them during their next existential crisis. Emil’s experimental blend of hi- and lo-fi recording methods and tasteful use of psychedelic atmospheres allow his strong songwriting to take precedent, while simultaneously offering plenty of new textures to discover with each subsequent listen. Diverse range of influences include raga, psych, drone, folk, dub…the list goes on.
Produced & Recorded by Emil Amos, except “All to Free” recorded by Jeff Saltzman and “No Self Respect” recorded by Jason Powers
Additional synths by Ash Black Buffalo (tracks 4, 6, 8, 10), Violin by Timothy Horner (track 9), Piano by William Slater (track 9)
Mastered by Carl Saff. Additional mastering by Paul Gold at Salt Mastering
Art assistance by Alex Hall and Eliza Sohn
1. Doomed Myself
2. Line Me Back Up
3. Transparent Powers
4. Selfish Thoughts
5. All Too Free
1. Wax Gets in Your Eyes
2. Life Could Be a Dream
3. Long Day
4. No Self Respect
5. Back Down to the Tombs
6. The Fact Facer