Eli Van Sickel
43:30 min • www.elivs.bandcamp.com • January 11, 2013
Six months after the release of Middle West, underground Midwestern folk musician Eli Van Sickel has returned with his follow-up, Nightlife. Stepping away slightly from the pure folk sound of his previous album, Nightlife shows a growing side to Eli’s work, featuring several well-placed traditional folk songs, new musical directions and new characters, all reveling in the highs and lows of the night life in Midwest, USA.
Opening with ‘Theme for a Street Light Pt. 1’, the album begins with a two and a half minute instrumental piece that builds in volume as it progresses. It’s not exactly somber in its tone – it speaks of the promises of love and strange times awaiting those who come out at night – but there is also that haunting sound in the background, maybe telling the nite owls to be careful, there are things that go bump at the midnight hour.
Moving on from there is Eli’s rendition of the traditional folk song ‘Dirty Old Town’, recorded in a spacy lo-fi style, letting his voice and guitar echo throughout the song. While the song speaks of the town where he found his love, and of the happiness there, a dark undercurrent is also there, suggesting that while he may have found love, it’s still a dark and dangerous place.
‘Partners’, the first vocal original on this album, swings into a jocular mood, a jumpy guitar jam celebrating the people you meet by chance at bars and parties. Some of the lyrics sound a bit syrupy – “You’re the only one I ever want to kiss, ‘cause you’re my partner tonight” – but a lot of the lyrics show Eli’s playfulness.
We are partners at this party unprotected
we were brought here against our will
We are partners in our criminal activity
feels like we’re committing crimes against each other
because we’re busting through the windows and we’re tearing down the walls and we’re tearing down the inhibitions of each other
and it feels so dangerous.
Eli keeps the happy mood going with the oddly titled ‘RubFleshEnergyClubLoveDanceUs’, a four minute instrumental jaunt that has a hard dancing blues swing to it with an undertone of electronica, almost like he’s attempting to translate a bit of techno through his acoustic guitar. I’m not sure if that’s what he intended, but the jumping notes make for a good instrumental continuation of the love he found in the last song.
The first half of the album closes with another traditional folk cover, this time ‘The Wild Rover’, a jolly number about a libertine who spends his younger days in taverns with wild women who now decides to return to his hometown. He has given up his wild ways and is looking to make amends with the people who knew him. The tone is far more joyous than the previous folk cover on this album.
The second half begins with Eli’s most daring musical move to date, the six-minute ‘Normal Midnight’. There is no guitar here, no folk element; this is six minutes of droning electronic noise with Eli providing spoken word poetry over the music. He speaks of the beauty of the night, where there are endless possibilities in love and adventure, where the troubles of tomorrow seem a lifetime away and where the burdens of our lives float into the air and disappear into the moonlight. It’s a haunting track and a challenge to listen to, but I think it may be Eli’s most brilliant musical move to date.
‘Apology to the Wind’ is a brief instrumental interlude, a minute and forty five seconds of spacy guitar. The mood is turning a bit more somber as midnight has come and gone and the night is beginning to end.
‘The Parting Glass’ is another traditional folk cover, but it’s the most haunting one on the record. Recorded a cappella, Eli lets his voice ring out clearly as he asks for his one for the road, one last drink to the people he spent his night with and to the freedom he feels in such a world. With its echoing a cappella style, you can close your eyes and envision his voice bouncing along the bar as the barkeep says “last call”.
‘Fall Asleep (Dancing)’ is the last vocal original on here and it picks up the story where ‘Partners’ began as he falls asleep thinking of the girl he met and the fun times they shared in the midnight hour. But as the night closes, he sings her one last serenade:
Oh what a night it has been
oh what a night it’s been for you
I am dancing with you
in the stars and on the moon.
The album ends proper with ‘Theme for a Street Light Pt. 2’, a two and a half minute instrumental, finishing where it began; the horizon is coming, the night is over and the wild-eyed children of the evening have all gone to bed, waiting for the next time the moon rises so they can play again.
But Eli has one more trick up his sleeve, his first album to feature a bonus track, this one another traditional folk cover, ‘Will Ye Go Lassie Go’, a joyous celebration of the spring coming and the invite to take his girl with him for new life and love amongst the blossoms in nature. While not in the continuity of the album, it’s a nice little touch, a good parting note to leave his listeners with.
Eli has delivered a masterpiece, a mix of traditional folk songs, his own originals, some unexpected experimental moments and a poet’s feel for the love and passion for the life under the moon. My advice is to pour yourself a good whiskey and raise a glass while listening to this record, celebrate the life and possibilities of life late at night with Eli’s newest album.
This album is available for download: http://elivs.bandcamp.com/