James Murphy said he's obsessed with where songs are coming from, 'a place', 'a moment' - and it's that self-investment which allows ones expression to bring songwriters to their knees in emotional anguish. Songwriters can bring their listeners to tears through the beauty of music, or a heart-throbbing story of pain which has an iconic reflection of the listener. Murphy did this well with his songs, but not to the extent of scathing lyricists such as Elliot Smith, Nick Drake, Arthur Russell, and to some extent, Morrissey. They gut you; they tear that beating organ inside you apart with their own daggers of wisdom. Stories of loss, depression, greed, and anonymity within a society which moves so fast even David Byrne is unable attract people’s attention. The truth is, things do fall apart - and the beauty of that moment is the deliverance of a body of work - a Pink Moon, an Either/Or, an Ish.
James Clayton's repertoire consists of blatant sad songs. You may not be susceptible to feel the feels, but with Clayton and his pseudonym Crywank it's pretty hard not to. He speaks the songs you're too macho to write, the songs of his predecessors Drake and Smith, with personalised stories from a place, a moment - "Baby Self Absorbed". Clayton starts this release with a simple, almost sweet song sounding like Justin Vernon on the layered vocals, and a voice in the dark with the lyrics: "It's a guilt trip, to know me." And that's it, two minutes gone - a reasonably long time for a Clayton song if I may add. But that's doubled with "Dan Have You Watched Blue Streak Yet?" a gritty, powerful track musically with distorted guitars driven primarily down the left channel.
Clayton's song titles have often left listeners baffled while searching Google - from the American Beauty ridden "The Only Way I Could Save Myself Now Is If I Started Firebombing" / "It's Ok, I Wouldn't Remember me Either", to The Simpsons' "Deep Down I'm Really Kirk Van Houten". Clayton likes to use fictional characters to represent his feelings in a more visual sense - the apathetic Lester Burham, and the feeling borrower Kirk Van Houten. This is how Clayton wants us as listeners to react. He uses others to signify his feelings through song - which is then passed on to audiences to reflect our feelings through Clayton.
Musically, Ish is more experimental. It's been slapped under the title JC & The Nobodies as a solo body of work to distinguish it from his work with Crywank which now boasts two other members. This allows Clayton space to go back to his roots and start fresh with his guitar and self-producing skills without help - straight from the man himself. "Lucky and Wasteful" opens with the initial Crywank sound - a pounding guitar playing three chords over and over. The vocals here are edited to sound jagged and rough over quite a relaxing instrumental. This is backed by the layered backing vocals where oooo's can be heard to the surprise of the lyrical content: "Sing about bad decisions, ignore good advice." /”I know I don't deserve this." Again, an Arthur Russell comparison comes up with "Treehorn" with the reverberated guitar and estranged instrumental which follows - again reflected on the final track "Comfort" with a more sinister dependent on chord progression.
There's no escaping a Clayton release having heard the previous three Crywank albums. Ish however is differently in style. "Baby Self Absorbed" is actually melancholic and wouldn't sound out of place on an Elliot Smith album - while "Dan Have You Watched Blue Streak Yet?" gives Clayton a whole new dimension with distortion. But it's really the closer "Comfort" attracting me to Ish. There’s a feeling of sorrow even before Clayton has said a word, and that's very important on these 'sad' style releases. When the vocals kick in, the audience is left with a summary of Ish - "Is it the pain that keeps me going, is it the love that makes me stop," leaving you wondering where the song has come from, which place, which moment.