The world of dark, inward looking indie folk is one which is graciously reaching its popular and musical peak in this decade and the end of the last. For better (Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens) or worse (The Lumineers, Passenger) the rise is both interesting and obvious. Its genius is in its simplicity, a lack of instrumentation lets other parts of the music take centre stage, namely vocals and lyricism.
James Parenti, admittedly adds little to this formula but in all honesty anything that would bring significant change to this formula would see this shift away from the genre that Parenti seems so comfortable and adept at.
On this record “Don’t Be Gone Long, Ellen” it would be a lie to say that Parenti isn’t as skilled, melodic and haunting as any of the masters of the genre.
The first thing to note from this record is that it is bitterly, devastatingly miserable, and that is ok. His emotion comes off as real and he has a belief in his lyrics and in what he is saying. The themes of love through the troubles of mental illness are a rarely explored vessel for, at times, deeply affecting music.
“Cave in Burn Down” is one of the most challenging, troubling songs on the record, its accessibility masking the soul crushing lyricism and I would struggle to imagine anyone being at least somewhat affected by this.
Although some of the lyrics I feel could be a bit more nuanced throughout the record they convey the message just as strong and effective. “Sleepwalker” is a prime example of this. Throughout the record although heavy handed at points the songs create a distinct aura that is undeniable. It feels like Parenti may be best appreciated in a live setting where you can really connect to him.
My highlights of the record would likely be “Back to Sleep” and “Lucky Star.” They affect the
most with the almost childlike appearance of “Back to Sleep” and the musically visible descent in “Lucky Star” ending the record leading to a both hopeful, beautiful and in the end realistic conclusion on the realities of the situations and events in this record which convey a tragic yet magnificent narrative.
For fans of sadder works in the indie folk genre like some of Bon Iver and Elliot Smith’s releases I would certainly recommend James Parenti’s “Don’t Be Gone Long, Ellen.” It is certainly a difficult listen that may require a lot of contemplation but this may be worth it to appreciate everything that James has to say on this record.
Get this album on Bandcamp here : http://jamesparenti.bandcamp.com/