When Elliot Smith killed himself there was a shockwave felt throughout the music industry. Unlike the one felt when the same thing occurred with Kurt Cobain. With Cobain it was a feeling of why. A man with the best band in a generation kills himself at the top of their peak. It was baffling to many including myself at the time. With Elliot Smith, though, if you’d ever listened to his music, the sadness, the desolation, the emotion that he conveyed you were surprised, but again not as much. Elliot Smith came off as a loner who had been irrevocably damaged many times and there was no coming back from that.
Listening to Simone Felice’s new EP New York Times, I get that same feeling. There’s desolation, sadness and longing in Felice’s voice. It’s like screaming with nothing coming out. In the title track he tells a story that is so reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska with no redeeming characters. With thundering drums and a crescendo to a complete stop at the end it plays like an epic tale of scorn and scourge. Felice’s best tool is his voice that almost quivers throughout.
He emits so much emotion that one can’t help but be moved by this phenomenal display of music and lyrics intersecting in perfection. When he played the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco a few weeks back I said he was one of the top performers to see and this album is a testament to that. It is stark and like Nebraska the characters long for a better life, one in which they are unlikely to find. It’s nostalgic and simple in its musicality, but that simplicity along with the echoed vocals make an even bigger impact on the listener than a huge amount of orchestration.
With a voice like Cat Stevens and lyrics like Springsteen, Felice has exceeded even robust projections for this EP and created the five most perfect pieces of music in his career. More than emotion there is desperation in his voice. It’s almost like he’s saying that the state of things, the way they are, aren’t going to get any better here so maybe we should move on. It’s a solitary feel and it’s absolutely heart wrenchingly beautiful.
Best Song: New York Times – Tells a story without being preachy or corny. The stark imagery and nostalgic and sadness is remarkable. Maybe the best song I’ve heard all year.