With an album named as pretentiously and potentially pedestrian as this, it comes as a massive relief to hear the first track and realize you’re going to love the whole thing. Two Dollar Guitar is Tim Foljahn, a man to whom the lines between life and art are obviously non-existent. The classicist slant of the record is apparent from the get-go, as the inventive plinks of high-registered guitars cascade freely about the room. And it is this theme of inventiveness through traditional means that dominates. “The Wild Night” has some inspiringly jarring synth-orchestra moments, furiously unrelenting in their nonconformity to resolution. It makes for an unnervingly serene atmosphere, one that is bound by its illusions to being entirely normal, but delightfully offset by the appearances of the bizarre and whimsical.
Inevitable comparison time: The quiet spirit of Nick Drake finds some respite in Foljahn and his mutual respect of the value of restraint. Were he a lesser artist, the arrangements could have blustered when they should be whispering, each chord change could wash by without result, and every anguished line would have simply become trashed by predictability. Luckily, like Drake, Foljahn knows when to let things speak for themselves. On “4 O’Clock,” the subtle-as-clouds sitar ghosts in and out of the mix expertly, where it could have been the worst indulgence and a horrible cry of ‘hey guys, this is my ’60s song!’ It is this sensibility that separates the man from his lesser pretenders to the literate folk-classicist throne – a position he could happily fill if Sufjan & Co. were to be removed from the headlines.
The casio plops of “Lying And Cheating” are, again, more than what they appear to be. The song is so gentle as to be cleverly unobtrusive, to the point whereby it comes merely something to help keep that head nodding. Because it will nod a lot. The layers of sound are based on this principle of subtle unobtrusiveness, simply because it allows the augmentations to flow forth from the arrangements’ unhurried glory. Desperately sad strokes of warbling guitar and unflustered ukulele (it’s nice to hear that instrument played sensitively without the comic cloy of matinee variety in the way) skulk around the songs, waiting to dip under the surface and breach at exactly the right times.
So in effect, what we have in The Wear And Tear Of Fear is an expertly constructed slice of emotional destruction played with the necessary detachment to make it gloriously listenable. The music is taken away from the lyrics, worked on with seemingly feverish designs upon its excellence so that it flourishes as of itself rather than be too bogged down in making the sad songs sound sad. Truth is, the songs are sad. The music is, fortunately, beautiful.
Cat Power – What Would the Community Think
Lee Hazlewood – A Cowboy in Sweden
Nick Drake – Bryter Layter