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coverpic flag US - Kentucky - Full Moon 64 - 12/30/01

Papa M
Whatever, Mortal

Something of a subtle participant in musical revolutions, Dave Pajo has been using his guitar to butterfly effect for about a decade. One-time member of Slint (creators of the seminal Spiderland) and Tortoise, Pajo comes across as a quietly talented, patient man who will wait for people to listen rather than set off a firecracker in their face.

His debut as Papa M, Live From A Shark Cage, breathed new life into the tired post-rock formula in 1999, demonstrating that instrumental guitar music could still be essential, dynamic and moving. A favourite of the Super Furry Animals' Gruff, its appeal was clear: melody and atmosphere in abundance. After the disappointing Papa M Sings, wherein Pajo proved that he could sing and play 'authentic' backwoods ballads, Whatever, Mortal is a delight. It effectively combines the delicious guitar stylings of Shark Cage with the rustic atmosphere of Sings to create a warm, affecting music.

"Beloved Woman", the finest cut on the album and one of my favourite songs released this year, broods menacingly before shifting tone in the second half to inject a rush of ecstatic fist-in-the-air euphoria. And that crisp rhythmic drive? Courtesy of Britt Walford, also ex-Slint, lending a hand on drums.

Elsewhere Tara Jane O'Neil adds tone colour with banjo, and Will Oldham plays piano, guitar and bass and sings backing vocals. Oldham's influence is especially notable. The stark, resonant production (actually attributed in the sleevenotes to 'no one in particular') and unflinchingly honest lyrics sound just right and more than a little reminiscent of Oldham's recent records. Even the line "There was something like a wall between us/That stopped your going down on my penis" from "Sorrow Reigns Blue" fails to raise a snigger; why can't a man shrug off macho pretence and confide his sexual malaise? Bravo Dave.

The crackly four-track instrumental "Krusty" is a perfect example of how Pajo's knack for memorable guitar lines can shine through a seemingly average lo-fi throwaway. The use of sitar on "Sabotage" is a poignant reminder of the sad passing of George Harrison, and his lasting influence on pop. The song stands as a shining example of how a much-maligned instrument can still sound new. "Arundel, the conclusion to Shark Cage, is reprised at the end of Whatever, Mortal as "Northwest Passage". Its beauty as a resonant, brooding piece for solo guitar mutates into transparently joyful song when filled with instrumental colour.

There's an almost Zen-like atmosphere to this record, in line with the title. Once the superfluous trash of everyday life is shaken off, Pajo is left with wonder at what is left: nature, love; the balance of light and shadow. Free from artifice and richly rewarding, Whatever, Mortal comes warmly recommended.

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You may also want to check out our Papa M article/review: Highway Songs.

© 2011 Luna Kafé