My first experience with Viking Moses! must have gone bad enough that I don’t even remember why “Crosses” didn’t stick in my personal weekly rotation or long-term memory. I remember listening to it a couple times in 2006, and after that I lose track. But I was blessed and The Lord shone his love upon me, offered me redemption this year when he sent me a copy of “The Parts that Showed”. Oh yeah—it’s a good-un. Catchy tunes, clever songwriting, and hey—it’s kind of a conceptual project, lyrically speaking. Every song reveals a little bit more of the story of this girl who sells her body, and then spends the proceeds on iced treats for neighbor children. It’s not a perfect album, but then neither is any of our Lord’s children.
After the first few listens, I gathered this vague estimation that the force behind my initial lack of enthusiasm for Viking Moses! was Brendon Massei’s vocal style. He does sing with a certain candid quality, to the point where if I let go of momentary consciousness, I begin to feel like he’s regaling me with tales of his real town in which he very actually was raised. But something in his voice sticks in my craw—I had to try
to like his vocal efforts, not like when I was with Jim Morrison or Roy Orbison. Alright enough with vocalization—let’s talk lyrics. This thing is really a lyrical near-masterpiece. It’s written in a very prosaic style, but the complete success of the prose—considering the context, the subject matter, and the style of the music Viking Moses! plays—pushes this big story about a young rural prostitute into the realm of true poetry. The language is not overburdened with obtuse wordiness (like this review might be) or self-reverence. The songs are written honestly, using common language that still manages to sound fresh. It might sound like blasphemy, but I am reminded of Leonard Cohen or William Oldham. The young prostitute’s story is revealed over a dozen songs, full of both positivity and the inevitable writhing pain. As long as I’ve already established this paragraph as the one in which I draw connections to other artists, let me just quickly mention the similarity between Massei’s storytelling and that of Faulkner. It takes several passes, not necessarily all in the same manner or from the same perspective, but we eventually arrive with what is a ‘complete’ story, and how do we decide what to think of it?
The orchestration on “The Parts that Showed” is rather typical—guitar, piano, simple rock percussion. The recordings have a kind of ‘raw’ texture, where slight natural-sounding reverberations exist at all times, making me feel like the album could have been recorded in a kitchen, a living-room, or a garage. The tunes themselves range from somber and slow, as in “Life Empty Eyes” or “Under the Soda Sky”, and a feeling that I can only describe as jolly, since that’s how I feel while listening. “The Jones Boys”, probably my favorite song on the album, is a brief tune in which this girl ‘turns a trick’ and then turns the act right around to put a snowcone in a child’s hand. The subject matter is obviously a bit, ahem…fucked up, but the song itself makes you want to skip down the street. There are also songs that lie between these two points—but these also have a certain quality, wistful or nostalgic. Whatever the flavor, every song here is written with a kind certain charm.
“The Parts that Showed” is an excellent album. I think it’s appropriate to say that Brendon Massei’s voice is an ‘acquired taste’, but it’s by no means a sizable enough roadblock to stand in the way of pure enjoyment with this album. Viking Moses! tells a moving story here, and all along the way we are turned round and round with Massei’s poetics and the wonderful songwriting that carries this language along. Oh and stick around for the gory ending. Prostitutes have parent too y’know. 8/10 -- Michael Jantz (22 July, 2009)