So, Pythias Braswell (I was pronouncing the first name incorrectly in my head before seeing him play live) makes his home in Cannery Row, the literal and literary one. He writes and sings songs in a sort of mystical emotional indie folk kind of style, and is classy enough to pull off a Fedorah unironically, with a nicefeather in the band.
Thy Merciful Teeth is the album he just released and it’s so good. I can’t describe it to you super well because I haven’t been up on the references appropriate to this kind of thing since approximately the last I played with Why Make Clocks. I would have to consult Dan for artist names of stuff he might have played for me in the van on the way back from something. There are even moments here that remind me of things we played and of songs Dan might have written in the years before he and I met, like the jazzy tropical accents on a couple of the more uptempo numbers, of which there aren’t many, but the drummer on here has a stank on it dead-on like Tarbox could do on “Distant Sea”. I sent Dan a link to this album on Bandcamp knowing he’d like it and was not wrong.
Braswell is maybe a shade more on the folk side, other tracks are even a bit classical in some way, and Braswell’s clear voice and intricate melodic sensibilities suit each other really well. His lyrics can really get at you on a deep level and the tunes frequently feel like they’re pulling inspiration from some deep tradition I can’t put a name on.
There’s a lot of very tasteful instrumentation all around on this album. Kudos to all the ensemble, the winds and strings, and to whomever did the arranging – there are credits in the digipak but my eyes aren’t what they once were. Shouts out to whomever is singing those harmonies on “Will Forgiveness Find You”. Pythias and the rest of them handle and develop these themes beautifully. This is some of that advanced music-making with so much heart it hurts and you love how it hurts.
It’s all the more breathtaking to me personally on account of some history that puts me in a weird position as a reviewer but then again this hasn’t really been a review blog in years. I met the man behind Pythias Braswell when he was a 12-year-old kid with a dyed mohawk named Mike in the mid-90s. Always something special about that one, something deep. We both ran with a pack of college-town teens bent on making a lot of music and over the next few years we saw a lot of each other, were in a couple bands together and probably collaborated on a number of 4-track projects. At one point he was throwing down more good songs than anyone knew what to do with, and also played the shit out of some drums. To this day one of my favorite recordings he’s on is a cassette called Are You There God? It’s Me, Michael by a duo of him and our mutual friend Joe that was called Hard Boiled Hell. It’s a sort of touching goodbye letter in the form of lo-fi experimental punk-folk collages of song and sound.
The first recording Mike ever put the name Pythias Braswell to, and another of my favorites of his, was partly recorded, overdubbed and mixed in a trailer I had with my wife Leah starting a couple years before we married. In that living room, seated – somehow I picture him kneeling – in front of the same TV on which Leah and I watched the second plane hit, I’m unsure which happened first but they weren’t far apart, Mike sang the stunning epic “Song For Leaving” in one take into one microphone as I clicked record on a PC in the adjacent bedroom, probably running Audacity but it’s possible we were all still using pirated copies of Cool Edit Pro in those days. I wish you all could have been a collective fly on the wall that day. Then Mike went off to like art school or something, traveled the world, learned a shitload, and now probably has way better stories to tell than the ones you’d get about him from me, but those are pretty fun for me anyway.
Another thing he’s got is songs. I already knew that and now you do too. Thy Merciful Teeth shows the world lots of what has always been great about Mike and more. Pythias Braswell is Michael C. Hays is one of my favorite people, and this is my new favorite thing he’s done so far. It’s pretty special. Do us all a kindness and check it out.