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Tom House

The Neighborhood Is Changing – 1997 (Checkered Past)

Reviewed by Bill Sacks

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CDs by Tom House

Tom House's first full-length disc is a troubling artifact: here is work so obsessed with squalor it flirts with valorizing it. There are fantasies of surrender to flailing vulgarity; classic revenge motifs fractured by phrasing designed to impart either distracted rage or the bleakest obliviousness; and plaints which speak of love but insist on alienation instead. The sum expression is of a bad conscience so pervasive in its despair that it's suffocating. That there is also one remarkable revisioning of the old-time Southern gospel style ("Soil Of The Earth") should come as no surprise.

The music is the product of an equally fractured vision of the string band tradition. All of the components are there, but they often function as a kind of faded punctuation to whatever is most dissolute or obscene in the world of hard margins House has dedicated himself to. He subordinates many of his tunes's rhythms to unhinged lyrical meter; the results range from uncommonly angular breaks to a few actual dropped beats or mid-verse tempo shifts.

These oddities ultimately prove reflective of the instincts at the record's center: if this music sometimes sounds like it's falling apart, that's because the voice it couches speaks in an acid tongue.