Holy Sons – Survivalist Tales

January 01, 1970







Over 18 years and nine unheralded releases, Emil Amos –
better known as the percussion engine behind instrumental psych rockers Grails and
Om – has inhabited (and confronted) the darkest shadows with his solo vehicle,
Holy Sons. Content to haunt these furthest margins, Amos as Holy Sons has only
played a handful of dates over the years, and until this latest release never
promoted his records in traditional ways, relying instead on word-of-mouth to
develop a small cult of diehard devotees. And until now, that marginality has
suited Holy Sons’ experimental one-man-studio nature: disheveled songs that
surge and sputter on their own terms, eschewing hooks and tempo for opiate
paces and dream-state textures where occasional disembodied voices drift in
from obscure PSAs and various other odd-if-fitting samples. Those elements are
here, too, but along with what amounts to a PR-barrage (including an actual multi-state
tour) for Survivalist Tales, these 11
songs find Amos delivering his most concise – and dare we say, traditional? –
set yet.


That’s due in part to the creeping inclusion of a blue-eyed
soul vibe that Amos has only hinted at before, but embraces more fully here,
even sneaking elements of it into traditionally dark Holy Sons’ fare. “Look of
Pain!,” for instance, contrasts Amos’ stark acoustic guitar rhythms and Will
Oldham-like warble with blankets of synth-strings and keys so that it winds up
sounding like 10cc run through Howe Gelb’s off-kilter songwriting aesthetic –
that is before a discourse-on-sadism sample in the outro confirms the song as
Amos’. Likewise, the processed beats and foreboding narrative fare of the
cautionary tale “From Home” culminate in a Rhodes-blanketed falsetto chorus —
“where you get your money no one knows” – that wouldn’t be out of place in the
Gamble & Huff catalog. But it’s most noticeable on Amos’ most romantic
(that’s right, “romantic”) song  yet,
“Reckless Liberation,” which blends gorgeous Philly Soul accoutrements with
just enough Holy Sons’ wistfulness to keep the song tethered to earth. The
junkie apologia “A Chapter Must Be Closed,” too, tilts unabashedly torch-soul
through warm keys and syncopated guitar rhythms.


Lest you think Amos has abandoned his bread and noir-butter,
there are sinister, Grails-flavored Eastern tinges to both instrumentals
“Survivalist Intro” and “Survivalist Outro,” and sitar highlights the drowsy,
I-could-do-with-a-good-high buzz of “Payoff.” What’s most impressive about Survivalist Tales is how Amos has
tightened things up and added new elements without losing an iota of Holy Sons’
adventurous spirit and sublimely textured aesthetic. Amos still wears sorrow
and disillusion like a second skin, as evidenced by his marvelously concise
disquisition on entropy, “Slow Days.” “When you throw the clock away/it just
comes back again,” he wearily sings as the skeletal intro – a 12-string
tick-tock riff Amos’ only accompaniment – threatens to crumble under its
philosophical weight until electric guitar and synth layers cushion the existential
blow by finding light in the darkness via soaring, elegiac choruses. For a
songwriter who often resorts to irony as deflection, it’s one of Amos’ most nakedly
emotional moments. And it may just be the finest moment on what is arguably
Holy Sons’ finest album – making it a very special moment indeed.


DOWNLOAD: “Reckless Liberation” “Slow Days” “Deprivation Thrills” BY JOHN SCHACHT


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