It’s been quite a few months for NYC anti-folk. First, Adam Green vaults from shambolic lo-fi to melodic singing and string sections. Now, fellow troubadour Jeffrey Lewis, previously the author of twee acoustic ditties including ‘Chelsea Hotel Oral Sex Song’, has (whisper it) plugged in.
Judas. There, it’s been said. Judas. (For the 15-year-olds, that’s a Bob Dylan reference. Ask your uncle.)
But don’t go running away, like a discouraged school marm at Dylan’s epochal Newport Folk Festival appearance. For Lewis, in mixing the acoustic and the electric, has lost none of his charm. Rather, he’s added rich new colors to his musical palette.
Proceedings start in a traditional vein with ‘Back When I was 4’, Lewis singing his life in a manner so engaging that only the hardest heart won’t be hooked. Soon, though, we encounter ‘No LSD Tonight’, a witty, funny reaction to those who mistook his ‘Last Time I Did Acid I Went Insane’ CD title as irony and continued to offer him drugs at every tour-stop. It’s as refreshingly frenetic as ‘Back When...’ is laconic.
Among the full-on electric tracks, ‘Texas’ and ‘If You Shoot the Head You Kill the Ghoul’ are standouts. The former is a Moldy Peaches-esque call-and-response detailing dislike for the state, from the pizza (‘fucking awful’) to the people (‘fucking boring’). The latter is a zombie horror yarn, backed by a galloping guitar line. To Lewis’ credit it comes across like a delicious B-movie without once devolving into comedy.
And don’t miss ‘Sea Song’ and ‘Arrow’ at the album’s center. Over ten minutes, the music traverses from gentle lullaby to neo-psychedelic Hendrix haze – about as far away from folk as you can get, and all the better for it.
So, Toto, the anti-folkers are growing up. Yet, while expanding and experimenting, they haven’t lost the endearing, childlike magic that attracted us in the first place.