The male singer-songwriter genre can often feel like an exercise in oneupmanship, with each teary-eyed wastrel staking a claim for the prize of 'most tortured'. But let's face it, woman troubles aren't that important in the great scheme of things. If you're going to get anywhere near the prize you need real hurt, major trauma. You need death, tragic death; terminal illnesses and sudden disaster. Step forward Elvis Perkins. The son of Psycho actor Anthony (who died of an AIDS-related illness in 1992) and of photographer Berry Berenson, who perished in a 9/11 plane, his debut album is unsurprisingly informed by these twin dark moments.
Over a sombre, creaky landscape sitting somewhere between Gold Rush-era Neil Young and Lullaby For The Working Class, Perkins bares his soul to the listener in waves of grief, to no little effect. The title track is a harrowing cry of loss ("In the abandoned bedroom, a black-and-white of the bride and groom / will bring me to my knees with the colorized bad dream / that takes its place on Ash Wednesday"), a theme revisited in 'Emile's Vietnam In The Sky' ("Do you ever wonder where you go when you die?") and again in 'While You Were Sleeping', which describes a world continuing forever of its own accord without a loved one.
It would be churlish to criticise Perkins for coming across as too pessimistic but these 11 tracks are heavy-going, almost unremittingly bleak - even the initially jaunty-sounding 'May Day!' (an international distress call, remember) could on closer inspection be taken as a barbed attack on George Bush. Nonetheless, Perkins reveals a touching tenderness that often draws the listener in. 'Moon Woman II' swoons dreamily with violins underpinning the singer's mournful tones, while closer 'Good Friday' drones on a single slow unwinding chord for minutes on end. The introduction of Lavender Diamond's Becky Stark brings a contrasting glimmer of levity to Perkins' sorrowful delivery, but these rays of light are few and far between.
Things are best summed up in 'It's a Sad World After All'; as Perkins and Stark exclaim "There will be plenty tears going round" it's hard to begrudge the songwriter his moment to mourn. Indeed, we should be grateful of his decision to do so in this manner, although there are moments when you wish he would just lighten up. An admirable album then, but one that is hard to love.