Released 23 September, 2014 on Thrill Jockey Records
Artist: Holy Sons (Emil Amos of Grails, Lilacs & Champagne, and Om)
Format: LP, Translucent Purple, Limited to 500
The Fact Facer’s shadowy take on 70’s loner folk has evolved from the raw psychedelic 4-track experiments influenced by LSD, outsider culture, and Carl Jung, into something more focused and understated. Crooning piano ballads (“All Too Free”) and anthemic guitar solos (“Life Could Be a Dream”) initially suggest that Holy Sons’ Emil Amos may have left his penchant for obscure eclecticism in the basement as he started to move towards higher-fidelity recording methods. However, further listens reveals that Amos never abandoned the omnivorous 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 allows his self-therapy to rise to the surface for all to hear, exemplified most strongly by the album-closing title track. When “The Fact Facer” was originally released on My Only Warm Coals (2005), a collection from the Holy Sons archives, it featured drum machine, bass, and layers of tape manipulations, electronics, and vocal samples. This updated version strips all of that, leaving Amos with nothing but 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 songs, giving it momentum and cohesion without overpowering the writing. This atmospheric undercurrent allows him to smoothly drift between eastern-influences (take the tabla-driven bridge of “Doomed Myself” or the sitar-like guitar flourishes on “Selfish Thoughts), country-rock dirges (like the fiddle & piano-friendly “No Self Respect”), and electronic dub jams (“Long Days”) without making the listener bat an eye. The occasional drum machine (“Selfish Thoughts, “Wax Gets in Your Eye”) creeps in between organic drum sounds without creating the jarring contrast that existed on previous records.
Despite any changes in structure, fidelity, or instrumentation, it is clear that Amos still makes his music for the same therapeutic purposes that he did 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, comfortable caverns of his mind than deal with the senseless 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” from “No Self-Respect”). It’s 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