I’ve never been divorced. I don’t know what that feels like. But I’ve sat up some late nights with friends who are going through the living hell of relational breakdowns and breakups, and I think I have some idea of the messy ambivalence that accompanies those hypercharged days, the anger and self-loathing and sense of relief that seem to co-exist, impossibly, in the same human beings.
Jacob Golden’s U.S. debut Revenge Songs captures that ambivalence just about perfectly, and it’s the first great album I’ve heard in this still new year. It’s easily the best breakup album I’ve heard since last year’s bitter flameout from The Mendoza Line, Thirty Year Low, and it just may stand a chance of joining the pantheon of the Great Divorce Albums: Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, Richard and Linda Thompson’s Shoot Out the Lights, and Beck’s Sea Change. It’s that good.
Golden’s lo-fi approach (he’s fond of doing “field recordings” in parking garages) belies a meticulous attention to songcraft and arrangement. First single “Out Come the Wolves” opens the album with a flurry of surrealistic Dylanesque imagery, all centered on disintegration and destruction, before morphing into heavenly Simon and Garfunkel harmonies on the chorus, then morphs again into a furiously strummed coda replete with vocal counterpoint. It’s not exactly the approach of a garage rocker, but it is a stunning start, both angelically sweet and menacing. And the album doesn’t let up from there. Golden’s pure choirboy tenor, most evocative of Art Garfunkel and the Buckley’s, is the perfect vehicle for these songs of self-doubt and recrimination. And although the subject matter is prime fodder for countless Emo mopesters, Golden transcends all the cliches through his straightforward honesty and his undeniable melodic gifts. There are echoes of The Shins and a sixties folk-rock aesthetic everywhere, but James Mercer never penned a set of lyrics as perceptive and as self-loathing as these:
I never said that I had any answers
I never claimed to be the better man
I’ve got no integrity to cling to
I don’t have myself a backup plan
For twenty some odd years I’ve made a mess of things
I’ve lost most of the friendships that I’ve made and
I’ve burned a lot of bridges and it hurts me still to say
but I never intended it that way
That’s from a song called “Zero Integrity,” and it’s only one facet of a remarkably complex album that also takes in the reeling, kaleidoscopic emotions of bitterness, sorrow, confusion, anger, recrimination, and, astonishingly, joy and thankfulness for a relationship that is ending. The album’s been out in the UK for about a year, but it will be released exclusively through Barnes and Noble on February 5th. It’s the most human thing I’ve heard in months. And you’ll be singing along with the heartbreak.