The awesomely monikered King Dude - or Thomas Jefferson Cowgill to his mother - has been prolific since the release of his debut album in 2010. Music to Make War To is the seventh full length to bear the name and is a world away from Cowgill’s other projects, the death metal band Book of the Black Earth and the solo black metal project, ORVKKL.
Opener, ’Time to Go to War’ begins with a low hum which gives way to melancholic piano chords and the King’s lament of a life unfulfilled. The track is built on delicate piano lines and a haunting refrain which drifts like smoke, the vocals never rising above a conspiratorial whisper. It ends as it begins, with the piano falling silent and the King reflecting on his sanity, only to be confronted by a distressed female voice that might or might not be the externalisation of a damaged psyche. It is a bold statement to open an album with such a track, preferable rather to select something more punchy which would immediately draw the listener in. This, however, is an album of such ideas that instant gratification is a moot point and the astute listener will be uncovering its nuances for months.
Second track, ‘Velvet Rope’, is a far more immediate song and the bright piano lightens the mood, forming the basis of a song reminiscent of Chris Rea. The upbeat nature of the music belies the lyrical content which continues the journey through the damaged world view of the album’s protagonist. There are times listening to Music to Make War To that you genuinely feel uncomfortable. It is as though you are hearing the confession of a troubled individual, played out against mid-eighties post-punk styling. ‘I Don’t Write Loves Songs Anymore’ could have been penned by Ian Curtis for the next Joy Division album; the stabbing guitar of ’The Castle’ an unused idea by The Skids.
The influences are myriad across the album, from the aforementioned Chris Rea to the deep, Marilyn Manson-esque throaty delivery of ‘Twin Brother of Jesus’, but the overall feel of Music to Make War To is of Nick Cave at his most dangerous.
As a whole the album feels like the soundtrack to a dark journey through an American landscape, almost the rejected score to a David Lynch movie. As if in acknowledgement of this the duet with Josephine Olivia, ‘Good & Bad’ sounds like an unused song from Twin Peaks. With its laconic delivery, prominent bass above a fragile drum beat and prowling saxophone, one can almost visualize Audrey Horne dancing on the floor of the Roadhouse.
The album ends as it began, with the intimate confessions of the protagonist, half sang, half spoken over a soulful piano. Music to Make War To is an album that will give up its secrets slowly, showing the listener something new every time it is revisited; I, for one, cannot wait until the next time I accompany King Dude on his journey into the darkness.