Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley
The winter, the mean and cruel bitch of a winter feels like it's broken here this week. All of those February 14th displays of affection, candlelit dinners and all that body heat must have played a part in cutting us an early break. It could have been the omniscient and omnipotent groundhog in Pennsylvania too, lest we forget that furry prognosticator's direct influence on those crepuscular rays that arrive and mean that we start thinking about a reduction in our clothing layers. For weeks, we've all been stupefied by wind chill factors (assuredly one of the only phrases that doubles as a curse word) that make deep freezers feel like thermal underwear and our skin has become chapped and dry. We're seeing mercy out of Mother Nature and at once begin thinking of getting our gardens ready, or Cactus and Grapefruit League spring training games. There's little to warm up to when considering the months when living hurts, when the frigidness and the frostbitten chill of the air takes the piss right out of you. But when you are forced indoors and have the time to just ride out the doldrums, this weather becomes somewhat of a catalyst for introspection and the kind of contemplation that simply doesn't occur during the broiling afternoons of those beach blanket days.
Conversations are held in private quarters with one's inner voice, a longing look out through a window icy from the inside-out and a mug of hot cocoa resting beside a palm, with floating, miniature marshmallows melting into the brown surface. Elvis Perkins, the man of Dutchess County, New York, makes these days work for him. He must identify with the starkness and with the opportunity to burrow below the layers that usually insulate. He smuggles more naked tatters of dramatic inflection into his songs - which are pastorales as sung by an urban man with an infatuation with the countryside where a different kind of honest man and woman live - than most and he flashes up cobwebs of questions and subject matters that carry the kind of importance of things that should never have been forgotten, but were. There are times on Perkins' smashing debut, Ash Wednesday, when his slow-cooked and brilliant lyrics feel debilitating in their poignancy, slowing you down so much just so you can absorb all of their wisdom (or what you automatically hear as wisdom). Perkins is a writer foremost, skillfully claiming as his own a penchant for penning unspeakable coolness in the same room as his trenchant lines of despair that comes in different variations of disbelief and difficulty. There's a reason that Cold War Kids call him a genius songwriter, for their frequent tourmate ladles into the same crisp and murky thematic waters as they do, emphasizing that his characters are his babies and they are written about without judgment or scorn, in spite of their pains or vices. Perkins' songs are peopled with those sorts who struggle with nights, their tragic/invigorating lengths and the reality that the next evening there will be a re-run - it's a syndicated show where the harshness of matters can only be masked, never completely erased or slept away (though how nice that be?).
Perkins sounds like he's read a lot of books and retained all of the passages that dealt with the capacities of human hearts to want and deny and want and ignore and want and never stand a chance of attaining. Those passages in books that you might find yourself underlining because they're so maliciously identifiable for their soothing abilities, words that can lie with you as you stare upwards and let your eyes scramble themselves with a cloudy or cloudless sky. They're words that can strike a light in your belly and help read what's written on the walls in there - the good stuff that we can never physically reach. He's a man who has to have read a lot of faces and memorized them in all different manner of expression and concealment, delighting in both the offense and the defense - the poker face. He must have (and absolutely has) tried to slip into those expressions and muscle-less faces to feel what was going on just on the opposite side of the exterior, cocking his head to the side, perhaps lowering his eye lids and just getting in there mentally. On his song, "Emile's Vietnam In The Sky," Perkins asks, " Do you ever wonder where you go when you die?" and one gets the impression that it's not an answer he's looking for. Think on it as long as you'd like to, just make sure that you blow out the candle flames before you tuck away for bed. He'll be doing the same.