Fuck Animal Collective or Grizzly Bear: THIS is the best album of 2009
Sadly, just as it has occurred for every other genre, popular independent music is becoming slowly more and more homogenised, thus it is rare to be absolutely floored, completely blown away, mentally dissembled and deeply emotionally effected by a new release. However Divorce Lawyers, I Shaved My Head by Toronto lo-fi folk band Jordaan Mason & The Horse Museum is one such album. Great albums always create their own unique, cohesive atmosphere and Divorce Lawyers… instantly transports you to another world; an eerie, foggy, desolate place. Justin Vernon from Bon Iver is famous for his ‘staying in a cabin and being isolated’ sob story, well Divorce Lawyers…plays like songs written by a man truly isolated; the ideal setting for these songs seems to be just that, a creaking forgotten cabin inhabited by a man somewhere between insane and savant. Hell, the album opens with the line “My mouth was filled with his ovaries, I hold them here between my teeth”.
The album’s key lyrical obsessions include: dismemberment, sexual organs (but rarely sex itself), horses, grisly murder and the work of outsider artist/writer Henry Darger. The album contains frequent references to Darger’s Into the Realms of the Unreal, a 15 volume, 15,145 page Catholic fantasy involving shape shifting beasts, child slavery, trans-genderism and an epic, apocalyptic war. The intensely focused, incredibly detailed lyricism of the album certainly imbues the qualities that make outsider art appealing (in no way am I trying to suggest Mason is an outsider artist, merely that he picks out the strengths of the form and leaves the weaknesses, such as you know, being in jail or actually insane). The use of predominantly acoustic instrumentation (including the indie-folk favorite musical saw) and lyrics rooted firmly in an alternate past enhance the album’s other-worldly atmosphere.
A four part narrative involving a relationship as well as an eventual apocalypse in 1990 connects the songs, seemingly corresponding to the different sides of a double LP. Beginning with courtship (Bird’s Nest to Racehorse: Get Married!), marriage/children (The Wrong Parts to Hymn/Her), divorce (Is Water to Wild Dogs:Divorce) and an apocalypse (After the Glandolinian War to 1990 Was a Long Year and we are All Out of Hot Water Now). These themes hold the album together and give the obtuse and literary lyrics a proper setting.
Lyrics such as “You are a girl with a cock…I am a boy who cant talk” can easily overwhelm the listener and it is true that this is not an album for the faint of heart. This is a statement that can rarely convincingly be said about music and oftentimes attempts to disturb a listener of music are done with such broad strokes it comes of as ridiculous and laughable However I do not feel Mason is attempting to ‘freak us out’ and the wry delivery of such lines suggest pitch black comedy may be at play. However there is an inherent beauty to lines such as “and in the hospital, they ask me if I know where your parts go/ but I tell them your body isn’t made from skin they know”. A wide eyed, almost childlike whimsy seems to underly the creepiness, for example: “We stole a trampoline and made it our mattress and slept with all the houselights on” eerily sits in the middle of a song about mass murder. I guess to put it bluntly, this record is really beautifully fucked up.
According to the band’s MySpace the album was written and recorded over three and a half years and the attention to detail both lyrically and musically show that this was time well spent. The album is perfectly structured, with calming instrumentals following the particularly intense songs. The length of the album, with six of the fourteen tracks over five minutes long, is another aspect that harms the accessibility of the album. However the fact that Divorce Lawyers… is still a cohesive and focused album in spite of its lengths further cements its greatness.
Divorce Lawyers… is not going to be loved by everyone; it’s lyrics run the full gamut of social taboos and it can be unsettling to say the least. But that’s kind of the point. At the heart of the dramatic instrumentation lies some great songwriting, songs likeRacehorse: Get Married! contain a number of hooks and I even found myself walking around the house singing “you can swallow shotguns if you want to”. Jordaan Mason is a musician walking the line between apparent genius and apparent insanity with the deftness of a Russian gymnast; this albums has an emotional core more intense and effecting than anything I have heard in a long time. And what is music if not for making you feel things you have never felt before?
Words by Josh.O