Papa M

Richard Bold envelops himself in the haunting world of Slint guitarist Dave Pajo's debut solo album.

By Richard Bold

I will try and make this review about more than just one song but... ever since I sat down, pen in hand (old-style, Hemingway fantasies in full flight) to write this ode to my man, the man, David Pajo esq (Papa M, Slint, Tortoise, Zwan and Stereolab amongst others), all I’ve been able to hear in my mind has been that. One. Song.

This song is a true song. A song song. Aself-justified addition to the canon of great dark treatise to pain and struggle that runs through human history. There are songs like this in the aural tradition of every culture, language and nation; often having existed far longer than those structures that lay claim to them now. It’s Wuthering Heights, it’s Thomas Hardy, it’s the kind of stuff they were listening to in the Hebrides in 1608 as they stared out over the wind-whipped heather to the spot in the black, mountainous sea where the half-mad, half-beautiful maiden’s body sank, tangled and shrouded in her whirling petticoats.

Deep breath...

...aaand relax.

I am fully aware that David Pajo is not a rural Celtic goat-herder from the 15th century. Neither is he a Western frontiersman mourning the loss of his virgin daughter. There was a moment when Mary of the Wild Moor’s desolate and achingly beautiful lyrics first washed the clutter of modern city life from my ears that it seemed like a cheat.

The long-dead fathers of this music were telling stories at the very least reflecting their daily lives, if not directly explaining why they really didn’t want to go fishing any more (not that it would stop them of course). Even revivalists like the inestimably perfect Alasdair Roberts (whose recent album, No Earthly Man is the most earthy and other-worldly 40 minutes committed to compact disc for a very long time) are paying tribute by digging up originals that act like some bewitching time-travel telescope to our brutal and forgotten heritage.

This moment didn’t last long though. in fact, it lasted until the moment Dave Pajo’s distant voice is filled out with the warm guitar, subtle electric noises and lightening strikes of musical genius that thread through the entire album. And it never came back. And I listened to the damn thing on loop for days.

As you may be able to tell, especially those of you with super-sharp brains, I like this.

The overlaid acoustic shimmer that comes to signify the cold wind is so perfect and so underused that I am physically compelled to rewind and start again. This one sound so elevates the whole thing to neck-shiver territory that, had anyone else written this, it would have been scattered liberally through the song and lost its sparse potency. As it is, it leaves you begging for more.

I’ve failed. I knew I would. The rest of Pajo is brilliant too. It pulls together elements of his earlier post-rock instrumentals, the intimate letters from the road that his innumerable EPs brought us and even nudges into heavier lands with the chugging and moody War Is Dead. His voice has taken on a softer, whispering falsetto which brings to mind Simon & Garfunkel (Ten More Days) and Elliot Smith (Icicles) and the whole thing sounds like it’s being played from the other end of a long, metal pipe; only adding to its charm. It’s a great record but it basks in the reflected light of …the Wild Moor and everything I hear in it comes through that song’s filter. No matter what, for me, it all comes back to that one song. Listen to it. You’ll see what I mean.
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