Indie writer/musician Adam Gnade is a lot like Neutral Milk Hotel’s beautific, canonical “Oh Comely;” he makes you feel resilient and centered as life and all its context tries to beat you down. The “Oh Comely” comparison is apt, as Gnade dedicated his Do-It Yourself Guide To Fighting The Big Motherfuckin’ Sad, an indispensable literary antidepressant, to the song. Through projects both literary and otherwise, it’s clear he knows what he does well. And so it goes with Life Is The Meat Grinder That Sucks In All Things, a great new odds-and-sods LP that features one epic narrative/soundscape and a collection of solo, acoustic guitar demos.
Gnade is best when he’s finding threads in his work to connect with others and, in this, I look to his year-defining Run Hide Retreat Surrender, a real gem that was modern-day riffing on an On The Road-style cross-country trip. A song-cycle of sorts, it loosely tied together Gnade’s narratives and thoughts about a trek with friends from the West Coast to the East. But, above all, it chronicled a kind of loss of innocence, a growth, a maturation, a sensing that things change. Almost 12 years later, I still find myself turning to it, searching.
The title song on the new LP, available on Bandcamp, concerns itself (very loosely) with 9/11 and characters like Agnes McCanty whose lives touch its themes of death and rebirth. (There’s also a demo on the second half of the record about Agnes.) And, while Planet B – which provides occasional percussion, found sounds such as mattresses of TV static, and scissor-cuts of white-noise on the title track — could do more to fill the space on the 25-minute-long short-story, Gnade is the real star and holds your attention, fixated, if you give yourself over to him. Again, this sense of transition, this loss of innocence, this repetitive feeling that things change and you need to survive – it all looms large.
“This was before / before we learned to hate America / before we lost grip on the dream / before we saw the holes in the story we grew up with / before it was tough to find work,” Gnade speaks in the talking-song. “Before it got harder to get through the day / before paranoia / before doubt / before anxiety / before compromise / before we turned on each other / before now / where it’s a new killing every day until we’re blind to it / where we’re all so spread apart / where love is stress / and work is stress / and family is stress / this was before.”
I interviewed Gnade years ago and was surprised he didn’t see himself in the tradition of spoken-word artistry, which his narrations over music echo. (His demos here, it should be noted, are rough drafts for the title piece.) His delivery and presentation are plain – often dryly spoken words, recorded simply, over found sounds or, as on the demos, repeating motifs on acoustic guitar. But the words can be enveloping. The new record is an excellent point of entry that will leave you wanting to find more. Haven’t heard of Gnade? You owe it to yourself to read between the lines and track him down.