Tim Foljahn’s new album Songs for an Age of Extinction, out on Tuesday on Jennifer O’Connor’s Kiam Records label, is a masterpiece of gloomy, psychedelic retro rock. As the title implies, it’s about as far from optimism as you can get. Musically, like Rachelle Garniez (see yesterday), Foljahn looks back to other eras for his influences; swirling Pink Floyd grandeur, doomed Nick Cave neoromanticism, hushed gospel rapture and a dark rustic folk ambience that reminds of Swiss-based cult songwriter Bobby Vacant. Foljahn’s baritone voice is often hollow and haunted; when it’s not, the former Townes Van Zandt and Cat Power collaborator takes on a laconic country twang. Much as many of the arrangements are often ornate, they’re also terse: no wasted notes here. The lyrics are a litany of apocalyptic signs – it’s not clear whether the world ends because of nuclear war, Fukushima-style poisoning, global warming or all of the above. What is clear by the time the morbidly starlit, ten-minute closing instrumental comes around, building artfully from a minimalist light/dark dichotomy to an inescapable vortex, is that it’s gone for good.
With its oscillating layers of sitar mingling with guitar, the hypnotic title track, which opens the album, draws a straight line back to George Harrison. “Dying trees stand shore to shore, animal lovers in their midst, we’re heading for your holy war,” Foljahn sings with a tired, stoic resignation. The second cut, All Fall Away is a doomed gospel tune with a gorgeously ominous, all-too-brief Wurlitzer organ solo. Faded gracefully blends Kirsten McCord’s cello with washes of Foljahn’s slide guitar for an ambience that’s part Atomheart Mother-era Floyd, part Richard Buckner, with an ending that simply and cruelly seals the deal. With its web of blues-tinged fingerpicked guitar, the dark folk War Song is the closest thing to Bobby Vacant here, building matter-of-factly to atmospheric ambience with slide guitar, nimble bass, violin and echoey Rhodes piano behind a forlorn soldier’s tale.
New Light hypnotically overlays two sets of lyrics in the same vein as David J’s Stop This City, a warmly bucolic scenario contrasting with an apocalyptic nightmare. The god in Foljahn’s God Song is strictly Old Testament: “I’m not gonna leave you a sign, and I’m not gonna leave you alive,” he announces while the band channels Country Joe & the Fish at their creepiest circa 1967. Foljahn’s stinging, reverb-toned acid blues licks against a macabre funeral organ dirge give this song a mighty, surreal wallop, setting up the deathly spacious sonics of the closing theme. Without question, this is one of the most haunting albums of recent years: let’s hope it turns out to be a cautionary tale rather than a prophecy. Foljahn, O’Connor and their bands are currently on tour, with a stop at Union Pool on March 4 with Amy Bezunartea and Kleenex Girl Wonder opening the show at 8.