ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Cut Worms - Nobody Lives Here Anymore (Jagjaguwar)
Max Clarke wanders lonely through the American Dream unfulfilled on his wonderfully melancholic second album.
There is a genuine, lonesome ache in Max Clarke's voice that can really hit you right there, like when he sings "You don’t know what this life can do to a fool like me" on "Veteran's Day" from his second album as Cut Worms. But where The Everly Brothers -- to whom he's often compared -- pined for love, Clarke offers up more of an existential longing. Nobody Lives Here Anymore, Max says, is about “throwaway consumer culture and how the postwar commercial wet dreams never came true, how nothing is made to last.” It's a fairy tale ideal, as he sees it, yet we don't seem to be living for the now, either, as we're too busy looking at our phones. “It’s about homesickness for childhood, for a place that never really existed."
Clarke wanders through faded polaroids on Nobody Lives Here Anymore's 17 tracks looking for something to cling to, but mostly finds boarded up buildings and No Vacancy signs. "Paradise is full," he sings on "Baby Come On," a jaunty track set to a classic girl group style. "Ah but don't it look just how you dreamed it would?" Dreams, unattainable or squandered, permeate the record, be it a "Castle in the Clouds" where if you "Close your eyes you’ll fall right through the floor," or a tale of having sold his soul (and dreams and ideals) so long ago he forgot he did it, till "i saw it late one night on the Antique RoadShow...like looking into my own grave."
Yet Nobody Lives Here Anymore is not a depressing record, or one where he's yelling at clouds. It's wistful, warm and nostalgic...albeit for something that may have never really existed. A lot of this comes from the production. Clarke made the record with regular Margo Price producer Matt Ross-Spang at the legendary Sam Phillips Recording Studio in Memphis, backed by a small group of ringer sidemen. It sounds like something out of 1963 -- part Everly Brothers, part Marty Robbins or Jim Reeves, with a little Byrds in there too -- and Max's wonderful voice and melodies fit in perfectly with this sound. (I'd call it "classic" over "retro.") You could argue that the album is too long (80 minutes), as are the songs. If you're gonna work in a classic '60s pop style you should aim for '60s pop song length, and only five of the album's 17 songs are under four minutes. But the more you sit with the record, the more it all works. That might be a tough ask for a world whose collective screen time goes up every week, but Nobody Lives Here Anymore makes a very good argument for unplugging.