Every facet of life at the moment appears to be characterised via the impact of the global pandemic. This seems to be particularly the case with any artistic endeavour and Langhorne Slim’s new record Strawberry Mansion could easily be explored solely from this perspective. This would be doing this most unpretentious of albums a total disservice though.
What the pandemic has given some people is time; we’re told that “creativity involves breaking out of expected patterns in order to look at things in a different way” and lockdown seems to have been the catalyst for Langhorne Slim to do exactly that. Always a musician to wear his heart on his sleeve, he has used this time to rediscover his voice. It was something he had lost for over a year, unable to write due to clinical anxiety disorder and prescription drug abuse and when a close friend challenged him to write a song a day to reflect the personal, national and international maladies that were threatening to overwhelm his silence, the postulations proved therapeutic. The result is Strawberry Mansion.
Contextually ambitious then, and when the outcome numbers over twenty songs you would be forgiven for thinking that this is going to be a daunting prospect. Thankfully though, there is nothing overwhelming about this record. With an average track length of around two and a half minutes, Langhorne Slim sticks to his lo-fi Americana roots and the stream of consciousness approach to his songwriting results in an incredibly shrewd, sharp-witted experience. Complimenting this approach, the musical package is a surprisingly sweet, uncomplicated one. The opening verse of ‘Mighty Soul’ establishes the tone when he sings “Someday the world might come and blow your house down / First a tornado then a plague / Let us use our hands to help and hold” and the next few songs that follow roll with a warm tenderness that emerges in bad situations.
The fluid piano of ‘Dreams’ calms and even the insomnia of ‘No Right Way’ is still blessed with lullaby qualities. This contrast is never more the case than on ‘Panic Attack’ – “A calm voice started asking questions / I said Ma’am I was hoping for advice / I’m feelin’ lots of feelings / Not a single one of them feels nice” he ominously sings, but there’s a breezy jangle to the guitar that rattles across the warm synth bed. The ragtime piano of ‘Lonesome Times’ also manages to mollify what could have been just depressing.
This then is an album that certainly addresses dark themes and bleak times, but it still manages to sound positive, warm and amicable. It’s also a record full of introspection and regret; the slide guitar on ‘Summer Days’ embodies these concepts perfectly. Ultimately though, there is a sense of corners being turned, of lessons being learned and Langhorne Slim has constructed this balancing act with subtle care. There is a musical tenderness amidst the scrutiny. There is humour accompanying the pathos. I guess that’s what we all need right now.