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Viking Moses

The Parts that Showed

Rating: 3.5

Label: Epiphysis Records

It took a long time for me to come around to this record and I’m not sure I’ve fully arrived yet. The Parts That Showed is a relentlessly dour offering from Viking Moses, a personal favorite of Devendra Banhart. Having appeared on his Golden Apples compilation, this Missouri band (fronted by Brandon Massei) apparently has the balls (or naivete) to record and release a full-blown concept album centered around a teenage prostitute and the creepster obsessed with her. This makes the album about as sunny as you’d imagine- but wait, there’s more! Viking Moses wrote the record in the hope that someday, Dolly Parton would record and perform it! If that doesn’t cast a shadow over each listen, I don’t know what would.

Massei sings with a highly-affected delivery: think Antony & the Johnsons from the South. He almost sounds on the verge of tears with lyrics that envelop the listener with a certain discomfort upon first play, as though the material were much too sordid for casual spinning. I hesitate to call this a weakness; it’s rare that a record can elicit such a novel emotional response. Massei paints a picture of the same kind of Gothic American South that Nick Cave visited not only in his ’80s songs but more specifically in his novel And the Ass Saw the Angel. This is an America full of “dirty towns” and “abandoned houses,” where exploitation and moral ambiguity are king.

The Parts that Showed sounds as if it were recorded live in the studio, with spacious percussion and Massei seemingly flubbing some vocal takes a la Neil Young on Tonight’s the Night. This works to his benefit, surprisingly, as the listener finds themselves concentrating harder on the lyricism. While a handful of opening tracks establish the narrative, musically, they sound almost like demo recordings. Viking Moses do take off on train-track rhythm of “Sole Command of the Day,” painting a wistful scene of a teenage hooker’s day off on some burning hot summer day. “Jones Boys” is really the only time Viking Moses come anywhere near upbeat- don’t get your spirits up, though; the ingredients to this jaunty tune are the forlorn and bittersweet.

I give this band some serious credit for attempting a concept album in today’s climate; for reasons better (iTunes) or worse (ringtones), the musical pendulum has shifted, once more, firmly in the direction of singles. Cynicism be damned- I hope the band’s dream of Parton covering these songs would come true some day. It’s possible that she’d give some of these songs a voice or character they lack; toward the end of the record, all the acoustic guitars and junkyard beats blend together in a deep, dark fog like Tom Waits’ Bawlers disc. For now though, this is a record and band whose aim should be admired. At the same time, I can’t see myself pulling this out to often. I mean, I bought The Deer Hunter on DVD, but the plastic’s still on.

by Chris Middleman

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