When an album starts off with sweetly fingerpicked acoustic guitar, it's easy to think you know where it's going: an album of saccharine, overly earnest folk music. But if that album beginning were that of Big City Cough's debut, Born at Night, you'd be wrong. Instead, after a minute or two of sweetness on first track "Before This There Was Everything," it takes subtle, weird twist after subtle, strange turn. By the beginning of the title track, you can tell you're not in Pleasantville anymore.
Big City Cough, aka Toronto's Sean Beresford, has spent a couple of decades doing the rounds as a side musician in Toronto's music scene, playing everything from rock, to punk rock, to prog rock, to country. He lets us into his acoustic, mostly instrumental pastiche dream world on this solo foray, which expertly harnesses the unappreciated power of dynamics and long, weighty musical pauses. And while there are generous dollops of well-executed folk tropes here — Nick Drake-style guitar moments, upright bass (Jim Sexton), pedal steel interjections (Michael Eckert), a string section (Raha Javanfar, Laura Bates and Conrad Good), and even an old fashioned G-run on "Moon Corner" — they bob in and out of a hazy and at times dark urban soundscape.
It all seems to culminate in "Eventually I'll Dry Up and You'll Have to Throw Me Away," with a violin and guitar interplay crescendo reminiscent of a prog rock album slow song and an unexpected but powerful spoken word cameo — a death-do-us-part conversation read by Beresford's parents, Dick and Carol Beresford. "The Lonesome Death of Wonder" wraps up the album by pairing an electronic interlude with the perfectly panned sound of a slow moving train, a string section frenzy and then a lovely denouement, as the train pulls back into Pleasantville. Born at Night is a trip I'd take again. (Independent)