I still remember the first time I really sat down with a Tom Waits album. When that day came, the album was The Black Rider. And, as one would expect, I thought it was the most-metal, non-metal album I’d ever heard. After that, and still to this day, ole Tom gets more than a few spins per month in the Grier household. Waits gets so much love here that he even has a portrait in the living room and a neat stack of vinyl in the corner. I mean, how can you hate Tom Waits? So, when a promo arrived referencing the very man whose image watches my dogs rip shit apart in the family room, I couldn’t pass it up. But, with all the odd love Trespasses is getting (especially from producer Steve Austin), I have to wonder if this mysterious debut from Nathaniel Shannon and the Vanishing Twin is worth the hype.
The biggest comparison Nathaniel Shannon shares with Tom Waits is the vocals. Well, if “vocals” are what you want to call them. For the most part, Nathaniel Shannon uses his deep voice to spout out poetic spoken-word put to music. Unfortunately, the biggest difference between Shannon and Waits is that the former doesn’t quite have the poetic chops of the latter. But, regardless, Trespasses has a lot of mood and its lyrics and vocals backup the atmosphere. The key here is not to compare Trespasses to a Tom Waits release. Instead, let Trespasses try to convince you of its own unique character.
After all that, my favorite tracks on the debut resemble Tom Waits the best. “Pallbearer for My Lover’s Mother” and “Lost Hills,” in particular, have the unique elements typical of a Waits song. The former has an odd, circusy feel that transitions into a spacey, Blade Runner-like interlude. And “Lost Hills” delivers the kind of filtered spoken-word Tom Waits is famous for. If you are liking the low and slow, bassy approach of the record so far, then you’re going to dig Trespasses. The album is like a coffee-shop poetry night. Well, that’s if your local roastery serves up nightmares rather than coffee, refuses service to hippies, and lets the building’s poltergeists shoot-up in the bathroom.
As you would expect from a record like this, it’s difficult to pull out individual songs to for analysis. Trespasses is a record that should be experienced as a whole. Unfortunately, this also means there are many o’ song that blend together. That said, there are still distinguishable tracks buried in the experimental blackness. “One Sixty Second Street” takes the lead from opener “Debutantes” and layers the vocals over reverberating saxophone, while “Halo” and “Colma” bring an “upbeat” touch to the proceedings via plodding acoustic guitar. Then there’s the closer. “Never Drink Dead Blood” ditches all the experimental mumbo jumbo and, instead, acts like a normal song. A song that takes all the great elements of Nathaniel Shannon and delivers them up in a six-minute epic. It’s dark, it’s atmospheric, and has some actual vocals. It’s the kind of song I wish there was more of on the album.
While “Never Drink Dead Blood” works great, other songs do not work at all. “Deception Projection,” “Content of Attraction,” and “Time as Coffin” actually do more harm than good. “Deception Projection,” in particular, is damn-near annoying. And it makes continued listening difficult when you know there are another eight tracks to go. “Time as Coffin” isn’t as repetitive as “Deception Projection,” but, boy is it out-of-place. Its slick, rocking riff is so strange and predictable that I find myself confused by its presence. Of all the songs, this one feels like it was placed on the album for no other reason than money was spent to record it.
The biggest problem with Trespasses is that is feels like fifteen tracks never intended to be on the same disc. If it’s not an issue of two songs blending together, then it’s an issue of them standing out too much. Shannon’s vocals are good and his poetic lyrics have some bite, but the album is too long and too disjointed. Cutting a few of these lesser tracks would have made for a better listen. Because Trespasses was a unique offering that wasn’t supposed to happen, my guess is there may never be a sequel. But, if one ever comes to light, I hope there’s less fat. Because this is something that could work.
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 128 kbps mp3
Label: Aqualamb Records
Websites: nathanielshannonandthevanishingtwin.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/NSandtheVT
Releases Worldwide: October 28th, 2016