Outsider music seems to be what New Pope is dealing with throughout ‘YOUTH LP’. Otherwise known as David Boland, the themes, lyrics and musical leanings of the Galway-based musician’s latest release bring to mind certain songsmiths from the other side of the Atlantic – David Berman, Kurt Wagner, John Darnielle; peddlers of wry, introspective material.
Boland’s early musing that “I feel an affinity with anyone on the periphery” speaks volumes as he takes us through his past transgressions to alcohol-aided catharsis, and indeed the welcome oblivion it brings when too much comes to bear (“The only escape from this ship is sleep/The only sleep to be had is through drink”).
The welcoming thrum of accordion and synth – the breathing undercurrent of Boland’s compositions – gives life to Onwards, Westwards; that enveloping warmth belying a dystopian outlook, “Out of the city, the disarray/ Endless smoke, endless grey /Sombre, pallid sorrow/Streetlamps acid yellow.” A constant hiss of a cymbal, and guitar notes that bend and meander, take We Were Young woozily towards its tragic-comic finale (“I thought I knew you well/ You were just waiting on somebody else”), while the folky picked acoustic Christopher lifts the mood somewhat. As Boland sings “Of love I have nought/ Except trouble and sad thought,” you might almost feel sorry for him, if the sentiment wasn’t couched in such aesthetically pleasing hyperbolic language, tongue almost certainly firmly in cheek.
Childhood memories abound in Amsterdam – a place called home; a girl called Summer; the enigmatic, yet inherently tragic sign-off of “oh what’s worse is the silence that happened then.” The opening line is golden (“Amsterdam you humid bastard/ All my clothes are soaked”) and that simple personification of Amsterdam typifies the humour inherent in all Boland’s compositions, no matter where his subject matter falls on the melancholic scale, from pained, full-blooded memory through fanciful reminiscence.
A languorous doo-wop lilt is buoyed by the band’s soft accompaniment on All My Life, no one instrument taking precedent over another, and Boland’s initial mention of “sweet adolescence” soon morphs into a more stoic take on his past – “But if I could turn back time/ And start again/ Well I wouldn’t change a thing/ My mistakes they brought me where I’ve been.” North Donegal unfolds over eleven unhurried minutes – a more ambitious, tripartite track taking in starry-eyed seasons, deception and substances, and a downbeat coda of admission of regret.
‘YOUTH LP’ is weighted with memories, the draw of the past a tangible thing; rose-tinted and tender, yet at other times more difficult to relive. Boland, though, seems as content to revel in – or at least confront – the darker interludes as much as those blissful memories. It’s a device akin to that in Bergman’s Wild Strawberries – a film this collection can’t help but conjure in the mind – as Boland recalls pivotal moments in his life with both ennui and joy. The real joy is ours though. It can’t be right to take this much pleasure in someone’s spilled guts, can it?