Black Dog (oscarlush.bandcamp.com)
Black Dog begins with what may be Churchill’s depression metaphor sitting at your feet with doleful eyes, with what you would have to say (without apologies) was a hangdog expression.
Oscar Lush half sings/half intones the words of Pheasant Country over a guitar in the semi-distance and a piano a step further back, eventually joined by a falling away trumpet. The lyrical imagery may not be bleak but certainly it is enigmatic enough – birds at a shoot been shown their freedom, short and sweet, and “maybe that’s how all freedoms should be” – to leave room for bleakness if you’re already carrying it.
Oh, one of those albums then, a record for people who think the dark clouds of Songs:Ohia were a bit too chucklesome and Sun Kil Moon could get a little more austere and lonely. The kind of album Leonard Cohen fans hear and say “hmm, you’re bringing me down kid”.
Well, yes, but not quite. Not quite that dark: there’s a crack of light under the door, there’s a TV on somewhere in the building, this isn’t going to end tonight. I mean Stubborn Fool, the first single, while ticking off its protagonist and chewing over meaty sources of anger, channels both a downtown Manhattan folk bar in 1962 and an upstate pink house in the shadow of Overlook Mountain in 1967. And Kind Living takes that Band shuffle on a walk around the yard rather into the trees if you know what I mean.
But yeah, that feeling? That’s the darkness approaching.
Certainly, Lush is at the intersection of slowcore, sad country and the kind of late-night band in suits, dim lights and Bad Seeds covers you only find in indie movies and first novels. A place where Port Jackson Cypress Pine, a rich, almost pretty, acoustic guitar sound expanding into bursts of organ, siren-like electric guitars and sharp drums, feels like lashing out more than reaching out. Where Fast N Free curls up near a nearly extinguished fire and tells its story in the quiet tones of a man accepting his fate rather than lamenting it.
In Another Life, the air heavy with equal amounts of tension and regret, touched by harmonica and slowly engulfing his voice in shadow, Lush looks into the pitted, marked grain of the bar and says with a shard of pain, “ain’t too late to change your mind, at least not ‘til you’re dead”.
However, the real sign of shadings more subtle and varied than pure gloom which Lush offers, is in the final track, Black Dogs, which is bruised but not burdened, peppered with what sounds like a Theremin, but actually is a saw, over plangent, David Gilmour guitars, and tells us that “everybody cries when they realise what they had ain’t worth the hurt at all”, but still doesn’t wallow.
The black dog is held at bay.