Christopher Payne, who has performed as Whitman since 2002, specializes in the punctured and confrontational. Though his records specialize in noise-folk emotional polarity, live is when Whitman is his most vulnerable, alternating between unnerving quiet and unflinching hysteria. His newest album, Restoring Darkness, best captures this live anxiety through deflated instrumentation, stark guitar and desolate rooms.
Whitman’s fourth full-length album, Restoring Darkness was recorded between 2011 and 2014, engineered and produced by Ryan Beal. Whitman explored similar solo starkness on 2010’s I’ll Be Waiting, but Restoring Darkness is the final piece of a trilogy of records heavy with collaboration, starting with 2008’s White Sunrise and following 2011’s Dog Rose Gall. The numerous contributors to Restoring Darkness include Corey Fogel (drums - EMA), Henry Barnes (electronics – Amps for Christ), Ezra Buchla (viola – Chelsea Wolfe, Gowns) and Sean Bonnette (vocals – Andrew Jackson Jihad), attaching greater appendages to the organism.
All this accompaniment doesn’t result in much comforting lushness: the drums often contribute to bouts of cacophony and the strings flow in staccato march-step with Payne’s hard-strummed chord fists. The serenely- strung ballad “Dust” might be an exception, with Payne counting a few days of feeling fine between bouts of loneliness. Though the song ends with a hopeless couplet: “I’m probably gonna die in an empty room / wishing I was next to you”. The nostalgic “Golden Days” (the video for which premiered online in July) features bright string arpeggios behind recollections of ecstatic romantic flings that can never be recaptured.
Longing is clearly among the record’s biggest motifs, one where Payne joins Bill Callahan’s starkness with Jandek’s social skills. “I guess I’ll never get tired / of your poorly-recorded laugh / on your answering machine” he admits on “Last Summer” between somber string plucks. “I’ll cling to that as long as I can / ‘til your number gets changed.” Less tranquil is “Portland”, a knowingly hateful airing of grievances toward someone once-trusted. “You can always call your mom / when you run out of pot”, he sings with soft malice into the chord shakes. Scattershot drums stoke frenzy as strings are smeared into a vengeful sunset, the chorus a chorale of the raw and wronged. “I wanna see this city get swallowed by a mass amount of flames,” coos the gang vocal swarm, “and I hope you’re the only one who dies in that blaze”.
Restoring Darkness is an album of uncomfortable brevity. Most songs barely reach the two-minute mark, presenting a scene and an uncomfortable feeling over a handful of chords, ending without fanfare. The want for catharsis gets pushed all the way to the end, where closer “Dresden” awaits with creeping amplifier hum. The narrator reflects in a dark room about a painful absence, and relief finally arrives with distorted guitar, electronic squalls and shuddered drum shrapnel.
Though Payne’s often lonesome acoustic guitar might prompt the genre tag, Restoring Darkness is not cherubic folk with natural splendor behind a beard. It’s awkwardly strummed distress and ill-wishes for former friends. Where other acoustic songwriters harness the heart or shoot for the moon under a single beam of complimentary stage light, Whitman scrapes rock bottom. Restoring Darkness is loss, de-tinseled and misshapen. Buying the wrong thing twice, unwanted reminders, indifferent walls. RIYL inconsolability.
CD VERSION: These are pro-replicated, glass-mastered CD's (not CD-R's) and are a one time pressing of 100. CD comes in professionally printed digipak's with artwork done by Carolynn Pennypacker Riggs.
LP VERSION: The LP is a pressing of 500 records (300 on 180 gram black vinyl, 100 on opaque baby blue vinyl, and 100 on blue and pink starburst colored vinyl). Comes in a professionally printed jacket with UV spot printing with a printed inner sleeve, both with artwork by Carolynn Pennypacker Riggs. Includes a digital download card.
01 Darker Days 02 Departure 03 Blister 04 Portland 05 Last Summer 06 Dust 07 Golden Days 08 Hope 09 Dresden