Melancholy Americana would be a better denomination than freak folk, the tag that has clung to Viking Moses since the band’s appearance on Devendra Banhardt’s 2004 Golden Apples of the Sun (Bastet) compilation. The band’s newest offering, The Parts That Showed, should rectify that reduction.
For instance, the band claims that “This album was written with the dream that it might one day be sung by Dolly Parton,” going as far as to include a cover one of Parton’s songs-the weepy, iconic “I Will Always Love You.” Furthermore, the album was recorded by Paul Oldham, brother of Americana great Will Oldham on the Oldham family farm.
The viking reference, chic as it is given the hyperbolically ironic zeitgeist, makes a bit of sense: The Parts That Showed sounds something sung by Hrothgar’s minstrels in Beowulf; the sparse, chasmal spaces in the music sting like the lonely chill of a Nordic tundra. The stripped-down approach in production suits the group well. Singer/songwriter Brandon Massei’s writing technique is strong, allowing each instrument to stand out: John McCauley’s tip-toeing guitar, Jacob Soto’s carefully marching drums, Massei’s sashaying piano chords.
There are darker currents flowing beneath the already mournful music. The otherwise dreary and disaffected “Old Buck Knife” overtly threatens violence- Massei croaks over arpeggiated guitars in a near-whisper, “I took out my old bucknife and pressed it beneath her eye, / and I turned her hands to see that she understands I’m not to be taken lightly.”
The band asserts that The Parts That Showed tells, “A unique story of a teenage part-time prostitute who spends her earnings buying ice cream for neighborhood children, and of the man who obsesses over her from afar.” That gives the easily drippy “I Will Always Love You” a heavy and comically dark overtone.
The world of The Parts That Showed, like most great Americana, wallows in the ugly beauty of society’s dregs. Viking Moses‘ prostitute ‘n’ murder ballads have a direct reference in Americana tradition- songwriters like Parton, Leadbelly, Robert Johnson, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash and other hell-hounds. Viking Moses’ distinguish their songs, filtering them through the atomic post-punk/post-hippie indie folk millenium milieu. The Parts That Showed is a great record by a group that will surely blossom in the future.
Viking Moses: www.vikingmoses.com