Nearly a decade after their debut, Lonesome Wyatt and the Holy Spooks have crept back into local records store racks with the brand new album Heartsick. That may seem like a long time, but the intervening years included the release of the three-disc demos collection Moldy Basement Tapes ... and, of course, the rise and prodigious discography of another Madison-based band featuring Lonesome Wyatt, Those Poor Bastards.
For listeners not familiar with Those Poor Bastards, the band creates a gothic, clanking and scabrous brand of country and folk music. TPB doesn't shy away from being loud, distorted and even discordant at times, or from tackling religious themes -- a C+W soundtrack of sorts for the Book of Revelation.
During the past couple weeks, I've spent quite a bit of time with Lonesome Wyatt's various musical projects of the past decade, spinning what's been in my collection and catching up with what I hadn't heard yet. The new Holy Spooks LP Heartsick maintains the overall gloom and desperation theme of past works, but musically breaks new ground in Wyatt's brimstone-encrusted canon.
The noisy moments of TBP (or even occasionally Holy Spooks debut Sabella) are essentially MIA on Heartsick. The songs are built on a piano or keyboard base, and feature little of the country touchstones or religious themes of TPB. It's a collection of mostly non-supernatural horror stories in song cycle form, suitable for the darkest hours before dawn: loneliness and loss, fear and insanity, death or something worse.
This is not a musical direction guaranteed to ever attract a wide swath of the general public, and the hauntingly gorgeous, nearly cinematic music of Heartsick is also likely to confound the expectations of some Those Poor Bastards fans expecting that band's more abrasive sound. However, those who do hear the new Holy Spooks LP will likely be captivated by it; while I greatly enjoy the aggressively noisy side of the Bastards, I love the melancholic Heartsick as well.
The album package itself is also worth noting as one of the best I've seen this year, featuring a steampunk-inspired gatefold sleeve beautifully designed by artist Katie Umhoefer, a poster and a CD copy of the album. It's currently available in a couple different configurations, but both are pretty limited, so those who are intrigued won't want to wait too long to snag one.
Although there are no Lonesome Wyatt and the Holy Spooks shows on the schedule (The Holy Spooks, on this album, are Wyatt himself), you can catch Those Poor Bastards in a rare Madison appearance at the Frequency on Saturday, December 3. (Tribulation Recording Company, 2011)