Let me just say: You’ve Been Thru A Lot, But You’re Beautiful.
“Life-affirming Buddhist bedroom Space-math-rock with midwestern screamo characteristics” is a mouthful of a description for what can instead be simply described as a gorgeous piece of art put together by one very talented and dedicated man. Painted Worlds’ Sophomore album boasts a virtuous and complex sound built around sober and contemplative simplicity: The album in general is about the world being insane and overwhelming and disorienting evil and hyper-real, and the antidote being the spiritual truth and building a little protected circle of people you love to ignore the world with”
The album has several entry barriers, and I think the first and most important barrier is its own DIY nature. “You’ve been Thru A lot…” was recorded entirely by a single person in the privacy of their own home one spare afternoon at the time, and it shows; the sound is sometimes a little too wet and lacking in the kind of polish that a Producer and an engineer would normally be tasked with. On the other hand, the vision and execution are one and the same, there were no compromises, no concerns over making an artificial hit single, and no pressure from label executives to push for a more tame and friendly sound; that is not to say this album doesn’t have its sing-along moments, or that it is too highbrow for its own good, on the contrary, It can be catchy when it needs to be and it has the same earnest sensibilities of post-punk and bedroom-pop in all of their unapologetic glory.
The mind behind Painted Worlds had this to say: “Painted Worlds is a solo studio project about dealing with the ennui and loneliness of the modern world by embracing art, love, and sincerity in the face of disenchantment and impermanence.”
The feast starts with “Cute Funny Horse Bedtie”A prog-metal instrumental intro that sounds close to but not-quite-like the rest of the album, It’s fast, it’s loud, it’ll claw your goddamn face off if you mistake the whimsical name for an unreleased Mr. Scruff song. Although I’m personally a sucker for fast & loud, I feel like Its inclusion can be somewhat jarring and will be a bit out of place with the rest of the album, but it is what it is and I quite dig it.
“TriRal” is song #2 and it sets the tone for the rest of the album, it is much deeper into Math-Rock waters, even though it still carries a lot of the upbeat raging momentum of Bedtiem. This track is not only when we become fully acquainted with PW’s superb Tapping technique, but also with the second most important faculty of this album: Its use of synthesizer. Synth melodies and fills are a staple that we’ll be hearing a lot of in the following 8 songs, never fully taking over the album of course, but always pulling the mind into operatic, LSD-infused soundscapes that harken back to the 1960s psychedelic origins of prog and space rock.
Speaking of Space, “Music for 1 Musician(s)” is probably the most spacious track in the album, particularly the first half, it feels and sounds a lot like floating in a starlit ocean alongside a pod of whales, this is helped by some of the sound effects sprinkled throughout the song, again demonstrating the harmonious coexistence between Guitar and Synth.
By the time “a picture of a picture of a picture of a sock” rolls around, the realization sinks in that this is gonna be one of those damn albums in which I cannot possibly choose a favorite song without feeling like I’m betraying the rest of them. Of particular note is the use of an extremely shiny and chromed guitar that was howling through space-time from somewhere on Earth’s high orbit, 1982. The intermittent Solos (or bridges?) had me sweating, I felt something like a knotted laugh caught up in my throat, and I wanted to run away and live forever in a Doug Johnson painting, I can’t quite put to words how much I’m enjoying this. The rapid-fire references to outlandish conspiracy theories come to a hilarious climax when he states that “they fried a weasel in the hadron collider machine and ruined the timeline.”
Strawberry Blonde opens up by making me laugh again with “I wanna live so far in the country that we can’t even get mail”. Of course, I do too some(most)times, who doesn’t want to just up and fuck off away from all of whatever this is? A heart-warming romantic song about the person you want to spend the rest of your lives with, it works because you can feel it’s coming from a real place. “We planted our seed now our roots are spreading” begins to weave together an allegory about love and a healthy, thriving ecosystem that remains present throughout the rest of the album.
“ok buddy” Starts off quite funky, this note of funk remains for the rest of the song and it’s accompanied by some more of those sweet cosmic guitar licks, and although I’m not saying the song sounds like Daft Punk, It does remind me heavily of their conceptual “Interstella 5555” with its seamless marrying of genres. “ok buddy” is no doubt the best song I’ve heard about the hottest topic in town: Coronavirus. Everyone’s got their take on it and how the lockdown’s got them climbing up the walls, but this is the first time I hear how *I* feel about the whole thing in a song.
The flagship song for this album: “You’ve Been Thru A Lot, But You’re Beautiful” simplifies things a bit, it leans a bit more on the post-punk side of things while still exercising some downright gorgeous Math Tapping. By far (and perhaps by design) this is the catchiest song in the album, I still have the titular lyric and melody on my tongue. It’s a very endearing meditation, the song feels strangely comforting and rewarding to listen to: I do feel like I’ve been through a lot and I’m still in one piece, forever changed, tired, and even chipped, but still plowing forwards, unafraid. This song reminds me that I got a lot to be thankful for in spite of what I’ve been through, or perhaps because of it.
“You’ve been through a lot…” is a tough song to follow, “Burn the Towers” does a fine job at it though. it begins with some of the most intricate and beautiful guitartistry in the whole album, which sounds like a copout when all of it is saturated with this kind of consistency and talent; I stand by it however, the entire track buzzes vigorously with a free-form jamming feel to it, switching rhythmic structures left and right to punctuate the lyrics about technoskepticism and getting even. If following “You’ve been through a lot…” is tough, not only is “Burn The Towers” boldly calling the bet, it’s also raising the stakes as it ushers the next song.
As the album nears its end, Painted Worlds makes two final exclamation points for his thesis. “Dark Claymore +10″ (a reference to the Japanese dark fantasy video game series Dark Souls) is exclamation number one, and it has my favorite guitar melody in the entire album, its sound is so incredibly retrofuturistic, it’s like A distant but ever-lingering electric wail heard across the endless expanse of the desert meeting the horizon in that early 90s CGI chrome gradient. It’s like the Highwaymen and Joe Satriani coalescing with Japanese Prog-rock and birthing its own enlightened indigo progeny. It’s an immensely satisfying thing that DC+10’s lyrics are the most spiritually charged in the entire album. Steeped in Turn-of-the-21st-Century esoteric images and figurative language, this song is almost directed at the skeptics and the spiritually tepid, asking them if they really believe in a purely cause-and-effect materialistic universe. Isn’t it time you did a double-take on reality? Is nothing ever strange or magical?
We are at the end of our journey. A familiar voice began speaking, I did not realize who it was at first, but its message gave him away soon after. British philosopher and theologist Alan Watts introduces the listener to the concept of “Hintergedanken”. It was impossible to end this album on anything other than a high note, and if you thought you heard every trick under the Album’s figurative sleeve, a very folkish Banjo interjecting ever so naturally will surprise you once again. Much like the Album’s title track, this song is a lot like a treat or reward, the banjo is very sweet and goes surprisingly well with the heavenly synth vocal choirs. “Hintergedanken” Most powerful moment comes with its last three lines:
“look at the little life we made
I swear to god,
there is a light in all things”
And with that, we’re wrapped up with this wonderful dive into sincerity and love. I felt it was every bit as beautiful as I was promised to believe, if not more -definitely more- and I felt It would have been a shame that a monumental two-year-long effort would go by unnoticed for lack of an industry muscle boosting it, which is exactly what happened to Painted Worlds’ debut album “Oh, The Places you Won’t go” an equally beautiful (and more visceral) piece of work that deserves its own review, as well as your ears.
So go listen now to this amazing album, take it all in, and remember: You’re still beautiful.
photos courtesy of the artist
story by Samuel Aponte
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