North of the Dial

If Delmore Pilcrow frontman Chris Garver wanted to avoid stultifying genre tags like "freak folk" or "new weird America," he might have considered picking a less freaky, folky or weird cover for the band's new record, Worn to the Weft. It's a collage depicting, among other things, medieval souls in various states of torment, a woman's oversized head marked with some kind of phrenology chart, a keyboard instrument that appears to produce sounds from an array of caged cats and an antique biological chart. Plus, it's green.

But Worn to the Weft is too loud and ragged to keep company with the psych-, anti-, or freak-folk crowds. If the first track, a gospel-tinged shuffle called "Left Shoe Right Shoe," doesn't exactly banish all thoughts of Devendra Banhart or Joanna Newsome from your mind, three seconds of the second track—"Poor Tom," with its overt Velvet Underground floor-tom callback and dusty, distorted bass guitar—certainly will. Garver seems to have tapped into The Harry Smith Anthology's harder edge, the one that might have appealed to Lou Reed circa 1965 had Reed not been sidetracked by John Cale's avant-noise minimalism. But then, Cale himself might well approve of the cascading wall of feedback that closes out "Why Oh Why You." Unlike the solitary acoustic stylings of Garver's earlier work, Worn to the Weft has appropriated wide swaths of alternative rock into a roots-folk context, an achievement all the more impressive for its lack of self-consciousness.

When asked how he would describe the record, Garver quickly comes up with an entirely new genre.

"Misanthropic guilt-folk blues-rock," he says slowly and deliberately. And "misanthropic" it is, with a strong dose of general malaise permeating nearly every track.

"I flatly refuse to take part in your funeral methods," sings Garver on "Captives of a Furious Nation." He continues: "I will not spend my life pluckin' words from the mouth of a grave/And I don't see the use in every report bein' perfect/I will not bide my time watching only the corrupt remain."

It's a potent line and a fine example of Garver's accomplished lyricism, delivered with enough parched authority to be convincing and enough earnest vulnerability to avoid being downright preachy.

I ask Garver where the darker sentiments of Worn to the Weft come from. "A general distrust with what people are putting out as right and wrong, or righteousness," he answers. He adds with a chuckle, "I just want to make people feel guilty," and then pauses briefly as the possibility of seeing that line in print sinks in.

"Ahh," he groans. "That's a terrible quote."

 
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