“Western Transport, de James Irwin, est peut-être le plus beau disque de l’année 2012.”
“Aucun disque, selon moi, n’avait jamais aussi superbement exprimé la mélancolie moderne. James Irwin est, osons la comparaison, le Baudelaire de la pop.”
I’m so much happier than Bodie with the cone on his head. My album is the album of the year at Bandcamp Hunter, an Australian site posting about Bandcamp discoveries. Thank you James Baker. Here is the article –
“My task, which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel-it is, before all, to make you see.”
Rock and roll can save, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Those who scoff at the power of music simply haven’t been listening to the correct things. When an album comes along that gently places a key in your heart, turns it slowly, opens a reservoir of understanding and feelings that you thought had long gone, colours your world in the prettiest of colours, then you know you are listening to music of real power. Music produced by someone creating something magical, created by someone that deserves to be classed as something higher than an artist. James Irwin is magical.
I’ll admit it, it’s a rare thing these days for me to listen to a full album from beginning to end and truly appreciate every nuance, every subtlety. To appreciate the structuring and sequencing of songs that contribute to said album becoming a cohesive whole. An entire work, ten songs that fit together beautifully and offer something you can sit and listen to and become completely engaged with. A collection of songs that offer something new and fascinating with each listen. I probably don’t appreciate lyrics quite so much anymore either, I don’t obsessively analyse metaphors and messages in songs like I used to. Where these confessions are leading, of course, is to Western Transport. An album that reignited my love of well crafted lyrics and the album as an art from.
Thrown out on the burning road,
where the wind was moving stones,
blood pools around my throat,
like river mud between my toes.
Let it sink it in. Give it space.
You are on my mind. Are you in my body too?
When the need goes away will the wanting stay?
Will you sit seven days hanging on guilty dreams?
Are you halfway here? Are you halfway to Mexico?
There’s no way for me to do the quality of these songs justice outside of quoting the lyric. You can listen yourself and read, as these are lyrics that can be read and appreciated on a poetic level. What I can do is expand a little on how they make me feel and what are some of the ideas that lurk within their gently crushing haze.
The reflective quality of these songs from Iriwn are not navel gazing, are not overtly introspective, they are the concise capturing of a vague existential ache that lurks in us all. Music that captures the sad and beautiful feeling of gazing at a glorious sunset, of walking an empty street in the middle of a foggy night and considering it all and nothing at all. Of feeling brutal heartache and wishing it would be gone but understanding this is what we all endure, that this is being alive. “Hearts Like Old Cars” is one of the finest songs I’ve heard in a long, long time. It’s a seemingly simple metaphor that Iriwn uses yet-like the entire album-it is filled with a brilliant swirling depth. The hardening of the heart comes not from cholesterol or double down burgers, but is generated gradually from disappointment, from unrequited love, from too much of life.
Without you I’d be out on a prairie, under a plain blue sky
with my steady eyes, steady mind, steady rolling, steady engine. I’d drive all night.
Hearts like old cars, breaking down, breaking down.
Everybody is haunted, and you cry and cry, never satisfied. Never satisfied.
The longing here is bittersweet and real but there is more to these songs than heartache borne of love gone wrong. These are songs that of an artist that is looking at people, looking at how we live, considering how we all think and feel. It is songwriting that posses a power that I rarely find in music, a power usually found only in the greatest literature.
Tie my friends down to their beds
Tie my loves down to their beds
Let these crazy birds fly from their heads
Put me back in old orange town where we drink alone and go home
Cause we are up in the middle of the night
Ringing bells, shining searchlights
The master asked for a word to pass,
We don’t have it anymore
They are words that stop me, that slow time and gently shift gears in my head to different places. To better places. There’s humour in these songs too, quite often I find myself smirking at some of the wonderful, strange imagery within the lyrics. The meandering, otherworldly ”Anyone To Serve” is a softly flowing spring of enchanting words, backed by peculiar sounds that sound something like a passing of miniature steam ships.
Now you’re lying on a lion fur, telling me what you deserve. You wrap your lips around a blur of words, strangest thing I ever heard.
How can anyone, listen to anyone, who’s got their luggage lying all around the room. Love somebody like a child would do.
As if anybody’s blind with faith. As if there’s anyone to serve.
Irwin alludes to big questions of faith here but the disarming humour of “How can anyone, listen to anyone, who’s got their luggage lying all around the room” is the work of an artist at play, of a supreme lyricist. Then there’s the (non) appearance of Alice…
Everyone this is Alice, Alice this is everyone. She came all the way from Baltimore with me, and the only one who can see her is me.
Though they tell me she was never even there, I will carry clothes for Alice to wear, as if anybody’s blind with faith, as if there’s anyone to serve.
I find these lines so funny and fascinating. They are some of the final words of the album and they leave you confused, exuberant and utterly delighted. In these songs Irwin has created a work of art that can be returned to time and time again. An album that you can pick up like that old paper back you love so much and be transported, be given faith in life, be gently reassured that everything is ok and find affirmation that the world is-despite it all-a terribly beautiful place.
Don’t waste your mind. We die all the time.
New Music: James Irwin – Western Transport
Before I start please forgive me as the following may come across as selfish, a bit pretentious and quite a lot ungenerous.
Although an unpopular opinion and one that might cause a few to sit agitated, I find there is something very beautiful, comforting and romantic about ‘the unknown folk artist’, one who remains undiscovered, exists well out of the public eye and fails to gain the attention they truly deserve. It’s not that I don’t ever want him/her to become recognized by mainstream audiences, now that would be selfish and I definitely wouldn’t be a good ambassador for running a website like this where I promote new artists and music. However it’s more of an ode to the struggling artist; vocals are fragile, lyrics are honest, instrumentals are delicate and the listeners relationship with the artist is strong and flourishing with every listen. Due to the struggling artist’s limited audience, the connection between the artist and listener is enhanced tenfold and lyrics resonate far further than a mainstream artist could ever dream of. With todays internet so rife it’s not terribly hard for an artist producing good, interesting new music to gain recognition of some kind, but for some reason it’s always the folk artists who fall by the wayside with this rule. Unbunny and Siskiyou have created some of my favourite records but haven’t made that success breakthrough that they oh-so deserve. It’s this ongoing struggle for folk artists that I will always strangely cherish but at the same time dearly wish it would pass so they can gain what they deserve.
Alongside Unbunny and Siskiyou, James Irwin fits a similar mold of the unknown folk artist. But this is far from saying that these artists are all the same, oh no! James Irwin has accomplished a stunning and beautifully refreshing debut that I just know will continue to grow in personality with every listen and will no doubt end up on my favourites of 2012 list. James’ vocals are the star of the show for me. Naked, honest and echoing the likes of Robin Pecknold and Arthur Russell it’s easy to see why I’m in love with this record. With many tracks carrying that sense of melancholy that I adore, it’s also nice to see songs like ‘Bluedust’, ‘Halfway to Mexico’ and ‘Nothing at All’ carrying optimism and a brighter quality. Western Transport is a rich and lush sounding production with James’ employing many friends to help contribute to this expansive sound including the likes of accordion, synth, clarinet, saxophone, french horn, viola, bowed bass, piano and slide guitar as well as the standard guitar, bass and percussion set up. ‘Western Transport’ is only available for download right now, it’s well worth checking out James Irwin’s website for all these details, and also for staring at the album artwork for a good few minutes. It’s just lovely.
Stream James Irwin’s ‘Western Transport’ via Bandcamp!
I’m posting this in it’s Google translated glory, for those, (most), of us who don’t read Danish. If you do, the original review can be found here.
Thanks to Eva Lakso, my new favourite Danish music writer…and many apologies for Google’s (goofy/surprisingly still impressive) machine-translation.
I am so glad that I discovered James Irwin at 23 and not at 11, that it was a very dark blue sky and not a damned light gray as a company. That the world was quiet, so there was time to slow canadierens numbers could find their place.
But now James Irwin here. He hardly even. I imagine at least that he is right now sitting in front of a hut far away in the Canadian wilderness. The perfect scenario for the melancholic sounding, folk influenced album lo-fi-singer/songwriter Western Transport, which came online in early May. Not that many people have figured it out. I think otherwise well that“Ringing Bells” could be played at The Electric Barometer and the home of anyone with a penchant for Bill Callahan ‘s story and evocative texts, The Zephyrs yellowish color and Cuddle Magic ‘s intimacy – or present itself right next to The New Spring , which Dane’s country-oriented neighbour.
The instrumentation is strikingly confident. It embraces both the indiepop’ede and almost The Morning Benders-wide orchestrated “Nothing At All” , “Needleye” ‘s successful embrace of tradition, people (I would not dream of Cohen) and just after, as if it were not already enough, collectors ‘Boys And Girls Together “ ‘s finger games and tortured, but eternally beautiful vocal harmonies on my imagined heart and squeezes together. Not hard, but noticeably. The grip is loosened by the straightforward melodic “Halfway To Mexico” , stressing that James Irwin despite lo-fi approach hopes that his music is pleasant to hear.Which it is. Especially after the first few numbers. I need to get familiar with the half-husky, half nasal, while insanely endearing vokals often stumbling melody lines. James Irwin momentary tonal groping gives me so much pleasure to read this text, find out why it’s worth beating knot on the tongue to sing words like “prairie” and “pillage”.
Listening to Western Transportation ‘s like staring into the fire and seems an uncomfortable world is okay, because you just now just looking into the fire because there is absolutely quiet and because you are there, the rest of the world is far away. Western Transport takes me out of any situation and replaces it with a static, hot vacuum outside of time and place.As the opening track “Bluedust” ‘s referent initially makes it clear: I’m going to Disappear .
James Irwin lives in Montreal and playing in My People Sleeping , Paradise , Poor William andThe Coal Choir , which I probably will read about here. Western Transportation is his first solo album, and it can be purchased digitally through Band Camp as the only place . Here you can also read the lyrics and listen for free. A vinyl would love to come this fall.
Herohill out of Halifax put up this heartfelt review of Western Transport today.
“…Western Transport is somehow as insignificant as youth, and as monumental as a school yard crush.
James Irwin on the other hand, is a talent to which I can’t relate. His songs, both as My People Sleeping and under the exposed vulnerability of his own name, have consumed me and broken down my defenses without any detection. He moves in shadows, but without malice. His voice is little more than a whisper most times, delivered calmly, coldly, detached from the root but still blossoming. These type of words are normally written by a critic out of spite, a collection of scarlet letters that a singer must carry as he’s run from the village, but for Irwin those traits mask the intensity of loss and passion of free spirit. Western Transport is beautiful; smooth on all edges, but lyrically it’s jagged and strong enough to rip through your heart…”
Check it out here or read below
JAMES IRWIN – “WESTERN TRANSPORT”
James Irwin is not a typical singer/songwriter. Perhaps this is obvious, given his giant melting face. This image, the album cover of his debut Western Transport, is fitting: the James Irwin we hear on this album is no person, but a voice seemingly severed from its source; a flat, tempered force that invokes, directs, and sustains.
With Western Transport, Irwin presents a cohesive tribute to the overwhelmed and underfed: the lost lovers and consumed; roles rarely acknowledged, often too close for comfort. With this delicate context, Irwin chooses to emphasize the holding of moments over their resolve, using striking imagery and artful nuance to powerful, distilling effect.
It’s a wonderfully lyrical album, far outside what I might expect from an unknown voice. But Irwin is not exactly an unknown artist: attentive readers may recognize his unique cadence and tone from a decade of published stories and poems.
As a collection of songs, Western Transport shows influence from folk, pop, country, and poetry. Considered arrangements create uncannily familiar moods, elevating lyrical themes and ultimately showing an impressive and effective sonic pallet. Also present is a spatial and temporal awareness: Irwin displays a prowess in opening spaces for words to come to life and narratives to unfold (“Hearts Like Old Cars”, ”Anyone to Serve”).
A rich yet directed production reminiscent of Bill Callahan or Will Oldham makes Western Transport well-suited for easy listening and atmosphere, but it absolutely shines when given full attention. It is a rare debut: one that not only marks the entrance of a new voice, but broadens what I look for in an album.
How much do I like this album? A whole lot. You will, too. Check out:
- “Blue Dust”
- “Halfway to Mexico”