Micah P. Hinson and the Nothing

mph Given the life- and mobility-threatening car wreck which preceded the recording of this album  it is very, very hard to listen to it without allowing those facts to colour your impressions of the music. I’m not sure whether that should be the case, however, given a lot of it was written and, I believe, recorded before the accident.

Also, I’ve interviewed Hinson before, albeit quite a long time ago, and he fairly spat with contempt when I asked about the oft-repeated trope that his colourful past had found expression in some of his rather nippy songwriting. He may or may not have literally waved his hand dismissively and said “yeah, that’s all bullshit” but it wasn’t far away.

So when I see every review of this album talking about the obviously dramatic back-story I find myself wondering how Hinson himself would feel about the assumed consensus that this represents him re-evaluating his life and starting again after such a horrific experience. Not to say that it’s bollocks, of course, but he is a relatively guarded, complex character, and I have never really had the impression that the version of himself we get from the press releases tells much of the story.

What this does feel like is a rather more bare and unguarded record. Despite some pretty blunt lyrics in the past, there has often been deceptively rich production on Micah P. Hinson’s albums, bringing at least some sense of Nick Cave’s style of character creation to what seemed otherwise so be fairly mercilessly personal songs. Here, however, instead of the lush, orchestral strings, what you get is the rather more sparse sound of a string quartet, and when the guitar gets angry it is just one solitary, snarling guitar rather than a furious band battering away.

So in the end what you get is a very familiar sound in terms of the aesthetic sensibilities – Hinson never changed all that radically from record to record anyway – but something which has a very different emotional feel to previous work nevertheless. Songs like The Life, Living, Death and Dying of a Certain and Peculiar L. J. Nichols might be an affectionate song about a departed grandparent, but the specific lyrics don’t exactly paint a sentimental picture. It’s a similar story with There’s Only One Name and maybe even I Ain’t Movin’ – songs which sound a little saccharine at times, and could be much more so, but nevertheless have a rather harder edge to the lyrics than you would imagine. It doesn’t sound like deliberate cuteness either, more that the barbs are there in real life, and hence they are there in the songs too. It’s not artifice, just the way things are.

Perhaps the inevitable conclusion of all these vignettes might be the combination of God is Good and The Quill towards the end of the album. God is Good is basically most kids’ first question about religion – If God is so amazing then why do bad things happen? – but instead of naff philosophy it comes across more as a weary lament. It sounds like the bitter recital of someone who is close to the end of their tether and as bewildered as they are exhausted by the cards that life seems to deal them.

The salvation, of course, is in the music, isn’t it. That’s how the story goes. Person has a shite time and then writes an album about it to help them deal with life. But when the next tune starts with the lyrics “The quill holds the hand still/ the paper draws nothing from this lonely heart” you get the impression that isn’t really what is being said. Rather than releasing the album as catharsis, as a way of dealing with a horrible period of life, I find myself with the impression of someone who makes music because that’s what they do. They’ve found something they’re good at, and whether things are good or bad, that is the lens through which they often view their life.

But when the shit really hits the fan, when things are overwhelming and threaten to crush you altogether it doesn’t seem that music, or the act of writing, are much help. And yet this album seems to exist despite that fact, almost as if the catharsis and act of defiance against a needlessly vindictive universe is not the content of the songs, but the fact that they actually exist at all. I have no idea if this is at all true, of course, but it is nevertheless the feeling I get from Micah P. Hinson and the Nothing.

And it is a beautiful, beautiful record. Buy one here.

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