To Be Born Again & Again
There’s a bit on Late Night with Seth Meyers where Fred Armisen tries to guess the plot of a book based solely on its cover. I can’t help but attempt to play this game with Jakob Battick’s debut solo LP. I mean, here’s a guy in full bed-in-Lennon cosplay, with flowers in his hands, his body double-exposed to imply a wider understanding of existence. Pair it with a title that references reincarnation, and I’m fully expecting a self-indulgent tale of a white guy’s Buddhist awakening. But, as I’m sure some sports figure has said at some point, that’s why you play the game. To Be Born Again & Again is much darker than advertised. It’s a wide-eyed, booze-soaked, drone-folk concept album about what drives us to think spiritually — grief, loneliness, things you think you saw on drugs. The Bangor native’s sound, which he has honed over the last decade in groups like Afraid, is somewhere between Nick Drake and Sunn O))) — tender strumming writ large and slowed to a crawl, buoyed by cushions of reverb and empathetic pedal steel. It’s music that hinges almost completely on atmosphere, and that puts quite a burden on a lyricist. Battick, who moved to Northern California in 2015, is up to the challenge. “I’m climbing up to Cruces, New Mexico / With your ashes in my hand,” he recounts on the opening “Brand New Thunderbird Blues.” The song is gentle and optimistic, referencing the natural world in an attempt to casually add death to its list of offerings. But this feeling can’t hold. A few tracks later, on a cover of The Flatlanders’ “Tonight I’m Gonna Go Downtown,” the spiritual uplift starts to require artificial support. “Don’t Die On Me Now” is not an appeal to a loved one, but an internal struggle. And on the final song, it all falls apart. “I wanna get blind drunk / And try to talk to god,” Battick admits. It’s the “try” that makes it — an admission of disbelief smack dab in the middle of a desperate plea for salvation.