Steve Von Till ‘A Life Unto Itself’ CD/LP/DD 2015
Neurosis lynchpin Steve Von Till’s name always becomes scrambled in my brain with that of gritty gunslinger Lee Van Cleef. Lazy silly brain. I just had to tell you that before we start. The opening track, In Your Wings, sets the sad tone for this enjoyably downbeat forty-odd minute album. And if you’re in the mood, it’s lovely fare, probably even delicious fare to some. If you’re not, then you don’t play it. You stick Ramones or Run DMC on instead. Von Till’s other aural alter-ego, Harvestman, is for me, a more tantalising prospect than the rather more conventional approach displayed here, yet this is an album that demands you listen with serious and respectful ears. I just don’t know if I possess such ears. Mine are more puckish and irreverent. I have cheeky ears. Steve’s (I’ll call him Steve, I’ve seen his photo, I feel that I know him a bit) work as a solo artist is characterised by a multitude of loosely related influences that cover experimental cosmic chug, seventies folk-rock traditions, German progressive forms and dark country-infused Americana. It is the latter music that is most explicit here, Von Till peddling the kind of weather-beaten Johnny Cash-core that he does so well.
The second track, A Life Unto Itself, is more country-tinged and I don’t like it as much because it reminds me too much of Nashville and I’m not totally comfortable with a sound I associate with neo-conservatives, small-town hicks and blue-collar white-faced boredom. The chorus rises nicely though, I just don’t really dig lap steel. A Language Of Blood is a brooding fucker of a track, all big skies and apocalyptic visions: “…reptilian mind, survives at any cost” is a particular line from the song that stuck with me. I hope Steve’s not swallowed David Icke’s reptilian conspiracy hokum like Matt Pike has. A nice sweep of strings come in at the end. Again, like lap steel, I’m not really into strings though. I am quite narrow minded and I don’t care. I do like his voice though.
Hurrah for Night Of The Moon with its electronic underpinning, sounding more Harvestman than Willie Nelson. This is a noisier track and I feel more comfortable with it. Birch Bark Box (say that fast when you’ve had a rake of ale and a funny fag) rises to an attractive crescendo with Steve using his forty-a-day gravel-voice to good effect. Chasing Ghosts broods and wavers like a brooding wavering thing, all sparse piano keys and swelling synths, and the closing track, Known But Not Named, works like a quasi-Ted Hughes poem scored by Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
And there you have it. Seven songs of unremitting joy, disguised as mortal pain glinting in the hollow blue eyes of the last man left alive on Earth (after a terrible ‘The Road’-style wipe out). I fucking love Harvestman’s In A Dark Tongue, in fact it’s one of my all-time favourites, and I love selected works by Neurosis, particularly A Sun That Never Sets, and I love Steve’s charcoal-dry voice. I just know that I won’t listen to this album much because it sounds too pedestrian for me. I think the orchestration is the problem here, I wish it was just guitar and vocals, recorded low-fi in a shed. Can’t be doing with lap steel and strings…grumble grumble…old and set in my ways. You may like it though. Give the fella a listen, and if you do like this particular work, buy it from Neurot and give him some of your hard earned groats.
Label: Neurot Recordings
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Scribed by: Adam Stone