Three years. A lifetime for a band. An eternity for a relationship (or a break up). Or, less pretentiously, 36 months. This is the amount of time we’ve been deprived of new music from Seth Woods in his The Whiskey Priest persona.
The wait has been long, just like the one before the banquet is served at a family reunion. In an ideal world, family reunions go without a hitch, where no grudges ruin the mood, where tipsy relatives don’t do those terrible questions we hate (marriage/jobs/kids) or where you won’t end in a food coma after a third or fourth serving.
This ideal world is where Mean Spirit lives. There is a definite change of style in this release, as the subdued and introspective mood that permeated through most of Lost Wages (one of the best releases of 2011, for sure.)
What Mean Spirit sounds like is somewhat similar to the “lost sounds and echoes” you can hear by a desert sunset. You might hear some of the heavier traffic on the highway in the distance. You might hear the high pitch of an eagle. You even might hear a faded echo of Bruce Springsteen‘s The Ghost of Tom Joad (his best album.)
The distance all those sounds travel transform them into something else. ‘Many long ago’ has that reverberated drum Reggae uses so much for a few seconds, perhaps confusing you for a second until the track breaks free. The distant sounds have arrived; they no longer are distorted. Open roads for blue skies, window rolled down and we are up to a cracking beginning, with a fantastic synth solo that sends this track rocking uphill and downhill, swerving all obstacles.
And then we get a shift gear. This will happen a lot in Mean Spirit. For every breezy rocker there must be an introspective ditty that favours the acoustic approach. So is the word of The Whiskey Priest. ‘Meanie’ is the first of many slower paced tracks. The slowly build up allows a synth atmosphere to sneak through, giving it that sound that affirms that the Priest is back in the pew. ‘Nearly numb’ is a catchy Americana song, mixing Woods‘ emotional vocals with the honeysuckle pop rock hooks the track deftly offers.
‘Back of my eye’ is sobering but still expansive enough, similar to the feeling you get when you are still awake after 1 am and still buzzing with euphoria/fear (delete as required.) ‘A body for a breath’ is a beautiful, breathtaking track that haunts you with a mournful violin taking the reigns over the instrumental break. The guitar solo conveys such a sense of loneliness mixed with optimism that you can’t help but feel like embracing it. ‘Selfish prayers’ brings out a drum machine (previously heard in ‘The ballad of The Whiskey Priest’) to give it a strange 80s feel to this longing track.
‘Youngtown’ has that Springsteen attitude that draws a grin in your face. The solo is fantastic and turns the grin into a big smile. It’s a pretty upbeat track that juxtaposes with the more sober but peppy tracks that are in its vicinity. Same goes for the fantastic ‘Word vs World’ a track that feels like an affirmation that is sorely needed after being fed up with everything (clue is in the title.) Another driving song for a potential roadtrip? Sure, sonically it fits the bill and heck, it even feels like an “everything will be a-ok, man!” sort of track that lifts the spirit.
Now, Americana has been a genre that loves the introspective moments, both for regret and affirmation. ‘Suicide Honey’ feels like Seth Woods‘ most intimate moment in Mean Spirit. The odd organ note, leslie-ing itself in the back to give it a soulful edge, carries the melancholy that the stringed instruments portray. The musical arrangement is lush (love the shy piano notes) but make no mistake: it’s Woods‘ vocals here showing how he is singing his heart out.
‘The mean spirit’ is a lovely instrumental that clears the air after the intensity of ‘Suicide Honey’. The almost minimal arrangement consisting of a drum machine and a looped guitar riff bring you into a zen state like a mantra. You can even hear a distant sitar joining in. It’s a warming track. Equally warming is ‘Spirit Means (neti, neti)’, the album closer. At first I thought it was somber but as it progresses, there is this calming sense of acceptance. The good, the bad, it’s all part of the same package we call life. It’s right there and you will focus in one or the other through the moments of your life but be assured: it’s an equal proportion and that should reassure you.
I’m probably putting words and meanings into this music now. Stop the review now. Suffice to say, The Whiskey Priest took a sweet long time to create Mean Spirit, a gorgeous masterpiece of emotional vocals, introspective lyrics and lavish music. Heed his words, for the truth is there.
Words: Sam J. Valdés López