BY MICHAEL TOLAND
When Michael Rank put his long-running rock & roll band Snatches of Pink to rest, there was no question that he would continue making music. But what kind? 2012’s Kin, his first LP with his free-floating congregation Stag, was inconclusive, its brooding, boozy acoustoelectrica sounding so much like the great SOP album Bent With Pray that one wondered if he changed the name just avoid any previous negative associations. The follow-up In the Weeds was a more clear statement of purpose, dropping most of the electricity and embracing the country and folk sounds the North Carolina songwriter plays on his radio show.
With Mermaids, his second album of 2013 and third with Stag, Rank fully hits his stride as a solo artist.
Still drawing on a deep well of heartbreak (nothing like a divorce to get the muse in gear, apparently), Rank pours out his emotions into eleven songs that draw you in with quiet confidence, rather than the brash volume of his former band. The drumless, barely accompanied “West,” “Stray” and “Bound to Me” force you to lean in close, drawing you into sharing confidences rather than hearing messages. Even the more rhythmically enhanced tunes like “Words of the Pilot (Part Two),” “Skin” and “Shot of Gold” keep the volume low and the mood intimate.
All the better to let lines like “When I kiss her eyes/Yours is still the skin I’m tastin’” sneak up on you. Rank sounds particularly conflicted in these songs—still pissed at the ruin his lover left his heart, but keeping a torch burning at the same time. The sense of yearning in “Shot of Gold,” “Bound to Me” and “West” is damn near palpable; the complicated blend of passion and resentment coursing through the veins of these songs will burn right through your ribcage to get to your atria. The tunes never wallow in romantic pain, though. Stark arrangements and Rank’s matter-of-fact rasp shut the door on overweening self-pity before it steps across the threshold. Besides, the determined defiance of “Coming Hard” and tentative optimism of the title track prove that Rank is still a good distance from actual despair.
With both a well-earned confidence in his stylistic direction and an exceptionally strong set of songs, Rank puts Mermaids into a precious space occupied by art driven by lovestruck turmoil. It’s heartless and unfair to wish Rank continued personal struggles, but given the positive effect it has on his art, it’s sorely tempting.
DOWNLOAD: Mermaids“,” “Shot of Gold,” “Words of the Pilot (Part Two)”