Yes, I know, I know, I am the only person who had never listened to any Jeffrey Lewis until a fortnight or so ago. You can all stop laughing now. Sometimes, as with Neutral Milk Hotel, you hear a name again and again and just never quite make the time to investigate any further.
What can I say? Fucking brilliant. Far from the sensitive singer-songwriter I was vaguely expecting, there is a deranged fire-and-brimstone fervour to his hurricane of verbiage, which is delivered as little more than a barely-controlled stream of consciousness. For something that sounds so close to being out of control, it’s really amazingly well put together. The words roll around and wander off but they periodically return to whence they started, just to remind us all that actually little of this is accidental.
I think it’s fair to say that there’s a bit of an edge to everything Lewis does. Raw emotion seems to be simmering below the surface of all of it. On some songs it’s pretty obvious, as the electric guitar is frenetically bashed and he launches one polemic after another into the microphone. On the quieter, sadder stuff this kind of barely suppressed well of feeling is a little less strident, but still seems to be on the verge of breaking its chains and screaming at you.
Mrs. Toad and I were listening to the superb 12 Crass Songs on the way home from End of the Road, and she remarked that it must be hard work being so angry all the time. Although those are actually Crass lyrics, the biting cynicism of much of Lewis’ work does seem like it might just burn a person out after a while. There are songs, actually, where a weariness of this sort of nature does seem to be in evidence, but the fact that he feels so many things strongly enough to tire himself out is what makes his music so brilliant.
So, another very, very late discovery, but I am hugely pleased I finally get it!
Jeffrey Lewis – Back When I Was 4
Jeffrey Lewis – End Result
Jeffrey Lewis – If You Shoot the Head You Kill the Ghoul
Jeffrey Lewis – Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror