Thomas Truax is probably one of the five or ten best singer/songwriters in the world that you've never heard of. His last album, Full Moon Over Wowtown
, was a weird, wonderful masterpiece, depicting the struggles and triumphs of the citizens of Wowtown, Truax's imaginary city, and orchestrated with a full array of real and invented instruments. Audio Addiction
is sparer, darker and more tethered to the real world -- although in a twisted sci-fi way -- but just as worthwhile.
Audio Addiction's first three songs suggest a concept album about technology, as they deal, in order, with personal audio players ("Audio Addiction"), the Internet's impact on society ("Inside the Internet") and cloning ("My Wife Had A Dream"). Each combines real and specific details with wild surreality. "Inside the Internet" starts with that logging-on sound, and the plaintive comment, "I used to have these friends / that one day up and went / inside the internet / and when I miss these friends / I just do a search for them / inside the internet." The melody is buoyant and music hall-ish, yet the tone is indescribably creepy, Truax's voice echoing, all alone, against a backing of guitar and drums. Alienating? That's clearly the point, as Truax observes, "I might not even know if they died / their web sites would still be hanging up inside / the internet." "My Wife Had a Dream", which follows, is more explicitly fantastic, telling of a clone created to keep the character's wife happy while he's gone. This track uses Truax's invented Hornicator, a kind of Dr. Seussian wind instrument, as well as repetitive rhythmic drums, tambourine and chants, to create a hypnotic backing. It all crashes to a halt when the main character dies in a car accident -- and then, after a pause, picks up again, louder than ever, as we assume that the clone takes over for good. It's more theater than straight-ahead music, using instruments, voice and even silence to support the tale.
The album's highlight comes next: "The Butterfly and the Entomologist", a seven-minute fable about a wounded butterfly and the traveller who protects her. The cut is almost all spoken word, lit with anxiety by Meredith Yayanos's trembling violin tones. Yayanos also sings, contributing the eerie and beautiful butterfly's chorus that makes the song's central point, "that men and violence are intertwined." The song ends with a murderous confrontation between the butterfly's protector and the entomologist who is pursuing her. After choking the entomologist nearly to death, the main character looks around for the butterfly, who is circling above in the sky, singing once again, sadly, about men's propensity to violence. It's a metaphor, obviously, for all kinds of things, love and freedom and domestic violence, but it's also a fascinating story all on its own.
The entire album is challenging and thought provoking, but the first half is somewhat more fully realized and interesting than the second. After "The Butterfly", the thumping-rhythmed "In Barceloney" provides a bit of conceptual respite -- it is a complex and interesting love song, but a love song, after all. Next, "The Fish" is compact and sparsely instrumented, a collection of odd and interesting sounds to support Truax's bizarre tale. "Lessons in Dressin'" opens with the vaudeville-swinging line "It all dawned upon me clearly / hitting me quite suddenly / that everyone but me has all gone craaaazy..." and from there pursues the complexities of choosing clothes with utter seriousness and complete insanity. The very odd "Pancakes" seems, at least partly, to be 2005's second cover of Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" (after Cobra Verde's much more serious version); it's also one of the only tracks on Audio Addiction in which eccentricity trumps music. It leads into the wonderfully twisted "Swappin' Spit", where a post-car crash kiss leads to eternal love and semi-happiness. (The happy-ever-after verse goes like this: "With the boy all grown up and locked up in Rikers / and our delicate daughter off with those bikers / I look at you now and I wonder how / you stay with me in this broken down shack even now.")
None of these tracks seem to be set in Wowtown, and they are, almost to a one, darker and more satirical than the songs on Full Moon. The instrumentation seems less dense, the songs less traditionally structured. There is more spoken word and less singing, for instance, and fewer truly memorable melody fragments (though that butterfly's chorus will stick in your head forever). Still, despite the differences, both albums come from an intensely smart, fantastical perspective that sees the world in a skewed and wonderful way. Thomas Truax is an exceptional talent, unique and resistant to comparison, yet fairly accessible even to casual listeners. Lots of people say they'd like to hear more music that's different, creative and boundary-pushing, but hardly any of them mean it. If you're one of the few, welcome to your own new audio addiction.