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Scorpion

Will Johnson

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Album Review

Alt-country figurehead Will Johnson has come to be known for his ceaseless output, with his band Centro-Matic, under his own name, and with any number of side projects. Though Scorpion is Johnson's first entirely solo work since 2004's Vultures Await, he was anything but dormant in the eight years between, churning out collaborations with Jay Farrar, Anders Parker, Yim Yames, and Jason Molina, among others. Scorpion is very much a solitary affair, however. The mood is thick and pensive throughout, and the instrumentation spare and drifting, most songs relying on a single focal instrument and subtle shifts in production to paint the picture around Johnson's moody vocalizations. Scorpion's songs deal almost entirely in empty skies and lonely surroundings, augmenting traditional acoustic instruments with wild delay tones or alien textures. "It Goes Away So Fast" slowly devolves from muted harmonies into a crescendo of space echo and interwoven lines of fuzzed-out guitar and melodica. The loosely structured "Riding from Within" buries Johnson's dour voice under a rush of unhinged acoustic folk instruments, while songs like "Truss of Ten" and "Blackest Sparrow/Darkest Night" hang more traditional arrangements on sad-hearted melodies, with the vocals in the forefront of the mix. There's an improvisational feel to the album, a sense that whoever's narrating these deep tales is more resigned than relaxed. This sense of resignation means even the more emphatically arranged songs on Scorpion, like the lush "Bloodkin Push (Forget the Ones)" and album opener "You Will Be Here, Mine," feel less meticulously arranged and more like slowly patched together testaments to broken times, moments of silent solitude, or lonely late-night confessions. The record is a downer, to be sure, but it's an incredibly made downer, and deserves a place among the canon of depressive monuments to loneliness that includes Neil Young's On the Beach, Sparklehorse's It's a Wonderful Life, and Richard Buckner's Since. Like those albums, Scorpion isn't an album for the good times, but its portrayal of dark days is gorgeous. It's a picturesque scene of some heartbroken desert landscape at twilight or the soundtrack for the days that come long after the initial devastation of a bad breakup but still a ways away from feeling better about it.

Scorpion, Will Johnson
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