In 1982, Bruce Springsteen released “Nebraska,” a bleak and unforgiving album that drove his tales of backwoods suburban romanticism deeper into the psyche. To this day, the album is still considered one of his best in a career full of exceptional releases, for not only continuing Springsteen’s narratives of blue-collar America but also by embracing the dusty folk tradition that had been an undercurrent in his then decade long career.
In Jakob Battick & Friends’ newest EP release “Bloodworm Songs” the same “Nebraska” hybrid of folk traditionalism is both revisited and expanded upon, as tape-collages and John Cale inspired drone continue the seemingly never-ending evolution of Maine’s experimental folk savant.
“Leper K” is a sedated folk-ballad that rises from static ambiance to an out-right embracement of Claude Debussy’s otherworldly classical impressionism. Over a plodding acoustic guitar and a John Cale indebted screeching violin, Battick croons: “Deep within/The heart of the wood/And in the moon’s dim light/Lay me down there/Where the nightshade grows.” The track is eerily familiar and plays out like a distant memory, masterfully illustrated by the multiple reverb-drenched vocals and hazy instrumentation that Battick & Friends have comfortably grown into their sonic calling card.
The most traditional track from “Bloodworm Songs” is the haunting enchantment of “Three Orphans.” Never before has Battick embraced pop-sensibility as unabashedly or successfully with a serene guitar leading the listener into a slow-burning ballad as Battick’s vocals drop down to a droning baritone, not unlike the Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt. Battick revisits the organic and impressionistic imagery that made last year’s “Heavy the Mountains, Heavy Are the Seas” a standout, as he delivers the solemn ode: “Hiding in the rye/Like little birds/Their wings clipped/Their beaks tied/They try to inhale all these/Great breaths of her.”
Battick is a master of crafting ethereal avant-garde melodies, but “Three Orphans” provides a glimpse of the universal pop beauty that has been a constant undercurrent of his dream-folk output. For those who may have been put off by his occasional experimental monotony, the track will be a surprising change of pace from the singer/songwriter.
If anything, “Bloodworm Songs” is a perfect primer for Jakob Battick & Friends’ upcoming full-length debut. It not only instills the listener with a new-found sense of confidence and variety from the collective, but provides a feeling that the group’s once inescapable and sometimes overbearing experimental tendencies might take a backseat to simply creating universally beautiful songs.
But the fact still remains that to even the most dedicated listeners, “Bloodworm Songs,” being only a five-track EP, is a taxing listen, and the successful transition to a full-length release will prove to be a challenge for both Battick and the listener.