, November 17th, 2011 13:24
As one of the finest contemporary chroniclers of the highs, lows and all points in between of emotional engagement, Dan Michaelson's eagle-eyed observations and razor sharp wit has marked him down as one of the most sensitive and perceptive writers to have emerged this side of the Millennium. Having produced hard evidence in the form of Absentee's two superb albums and his subsequent releases with The Coastguards, the conclusion is easily drawn that Michaelson, such is the nature of his sensitivity, is a man born with several layers of skin too few. This being the case it therefore follows, based on Sudden Fiction's material, that he's been flayed and rolled around in salt.
This first release under just Michaelson's name is not so much stripped back as standing utterly naked and exposed to the elements as it mirrors the sparse Texan environs that inspired it. The fragile music hangs on a thread throughout as it balances between making its presence felt or almost sighing itself out of existence like the last breath of the dying. The mournful guitar strums and echoing, delicately-touched piano keys elicit a weariness and lachrymose vista that frequently threatens to collapse under the weight of its own ennui. Easy listening this ain't.
Michaelson's previous work has always been marked by a sly and knowing sense of humour. Like all the best comedy, the roots of his material lie in recognisably mundane scenarios that are masked in laughs to prevent too much exposure of the soul but within these grooves the shackles of inhibition are cast off with nary a thought for the consequences. This at once becomes both the album's strength and weakness. Like the music surrounding them, the lyrics have a directness that jettison all forms of embellishment that almost makes the listener feel like a voyeur listening to way too much emotional information.
This is a bold gamble from Michaelson. Reaching far within himself, the results match that deep croon of his – a croon scientifically proven to be deeper than the Italian debt crisis. Consequently, Sudden Fiction isn't an album that's going to be popping up for you listening (dis) pleasure with all the frequency of a Dad's Army repeat. This isn't to damn the album; indeed, this is an experience to be taken as whole with time set aside and an investment waiting to be made on the part of the listener. Used sparingly, the rewards are truly worthwhile.