John Southworth Small Town Water Tower
Published Oct 14, 2016John Southworth is an oddball. For some, his mysterious eclecticism might make for intriguing art; for others, he might be an acquired taste. He recorded 2011's Spiritual War direct to cassette recorder, and followed with 2012's Failed Jingles for Bank of America and Other U.S. Corporations (with actual unused jingles) and the psychedelic cabaret-operetta, Easterween. However, any accusations of "artsy for the sake of being artsy" were allayed by the sparse and melancholic beauty of 2014's Niagara, which explored subconscious and personal narratives set against the iconic natural landmark.
At his best, Southworth's dark, absurdist sense of humour and restless creativity might be comparable to that of Destroyer or Beck, but Southworth's latest album seems to lack a filter of self-awareness or buy too much into his own shtick. Take standout track "Champion of Love," for example. It's catchy and fun, but veers dangerously close to Napoleon Dynamite-esque corniness.
Elsewhere though, the songs transcend silliness. The chorus of "When The Angel" might sound like a "Veggie Tales"-ish Jesus-jam at first, but upon closer look, one might find a classic metaphor between romantic love and religious/spiritual ecstasy. In other words, the "angel" holding his hand need not have real wings. One of the best songs is "Lucid Love," which simultaneously reminisces the joy and freedom of the narrator's younger days of puppy love while lamenting the loss and disillusionment of old age.
Absurdism and irony can be a deep, dark rabbit hole, but there's no need to worry about Southworth having a lifeline out when he can still effortlessly craft intelligent and touching songs. If he tries on a few other hats along the way, that's just fine. (Tin Angel)