It’s difficult to peer through the fuzz on Dearly Beloved. But it’s the right kind of fuzz, the kind that carefully obscures some clever tunes and downright evil noises. Quiet and messy acoustic strums flail around like undeveloped limbs, while experimental folk innovator Angell’s voice burbles underneath it as if not even there. This horror seeps through this tremendously effective record, at times fluttering past the ears, sometimes stabbing your canals with cotton buds that just won’t go in any further. Bluegrass electronica and wispy falsettos are littered throughout the landscape, but it never becomes too much to handle.
“Finally…Dreams” is, like its title, the sort of nightmarish tune a child might hear before the monsters come out from under the bed. Sounding as if claws are being scratched across the guitar strings, it is nothing short of unsettling. Similarly, the cluttered ‘bah-bahs’ and disco machinery of “Sheost” is an anti-song of Thom Yorke proportions, but oh, so much better than that. Where Yorke mumbles and tries to be frightening, Angell is effortlessly terrifying. His mad ramblings are nothing short of compelling and constantly entertaining. Despite the aforementioned haze of recording noises, it is much more human than one might expect. This is not a musical factor, this is all about the man himself.
Angell’s chief weapon is his demonic ability to shift shapes and guises, cooing eerily one moment and shrieking like a menstrual banshee the next. His religious upbringing is painfully apparent in the polyphony of choirs and guitar wranglings, intrusive but invigorating. His words are illusory, odd and engaging, hollering virtues and sins while being simultaneously capable of bewitching through sheer vagueness. “Lives are made of memories, that’s the way it’s always gonna be…” he warbles on “Born To Burn,” seemingly indicative of resignation, but also of an arch knowing that comes from a lived life. It is bleak and dark, full of woe and sweet anguish that is quite brutally interesting.
But salvation is here! Concluding track “A Backdoor” erases everything and we are treated to Angell’s best Nick Cave impression. Sweetly speaking of a climb to heaven, this seems to be the record’s mission statement. “I can’t last much longer without heaven” is as confessional as it gets, and a touching way to end the record. He is beaten around by life, but he is still graceful with it. A rare quality and joy are exuded at the climax of Dearly Beloved, one that is as affecting as it is authentic.
Robert Johnson – The Complete Recordings
Leadbelly – Midnight Special
Tunng – Comments of the Inner Chorus