It’s not often that spoken word or poetry becomes popular, which is unfortunate due to the massive amounts of beautiful work out there that no one sees or hears. Save for the occasional piece sandwiched into an Ani DiFranco record, spoken poetry is fairly scarce. I’ve always lamented the lackluster sales of poetry books in stores in which I’ve worked. Hell, more people know who the fourth runner-up on American Idol is than who might be the current poet laureate (it’s Ted Kooser, by the way). Yet it’s a relief to know that great work is still being printed, read and recorded.
Adam Gnade is one of the artists keeping the genre alive. His latest collection of work, Run, Hide, Retreat, Surrender is a dark and contemplative look at America, with eerie and psychedelic folk music as an accompaniment. The tone of the album reminds me of the work of Jim Jarmusch, and specifically his film Dead Man. Neil Young created the soundscape for that movie, with haunting and bleak guitars and organs that accentuated the black and white old west scenery while also complementing the philosophies within.
Gnade is also writing about America, but the America that he knows, that lies in his own mind. Whether speaking of dark thoughts on “So Long Darling / It’s No Use” or capturing images of San Diego, Florida or New Jersey, Gnade’s vision is made visceral through his art. The combination of word imagery and the stark landscapes of the folk music behind it are lethal and magical. Take for instance the drowsy vocal effects of opener “The Winter / Their Apartment” which sets a fuzzy hypnotic tone before the last spoken line becomes clear, “she says it doesn’t matter what; run, hide, retreat, surrender,…your apartment will be your grave.”
I couldn’t do justice to Gnade’s words in a short review, so I’ll leave that up to you to take a listen. I will say that the album is atmospheric and dark, but altogether enjoyable for any interested in the power of words. More often we are anesthetized by pop songs with a third grade vocabulary, but Adam Gnade has shown us there is more than just `baby,’ `yeah’ and `I love you so.’ America cannot be encapsulated by words of the reading level of USA Today. America cannot be bound by simplicity or narrow vision. It is bound by the psyches of its people, its places, its scenery and its collective thought, which Gnade captures to perfection
Neil Young – Dead Man
William S. Burroughs & Kurt Cobain – The Priest they Called Him
Charles Bukowski – Solid Citizen