The dichotomy of Will Johnson's impulses, long held between the aggressive guitars of former outfit Centro-matic and the darker, solemn pull of his solo outings or country tinge of South San Gabriel, both rise at the outset of his fifth solo LP. Opener "Childress (To Ogden)" slowly folds an easy, moaning melody into Ricky Ray Jackson's mourning steel, only to immediately upend it with the scorching roar of "Every Single Day of Late." Yet rather than distracting incoherently, both sides of the Austinite meld expertly in the tension inherent in these desperate narratives of compromised characters. "Ruby Shameless" lulls a brutal beauty and "Heresy and Snakes" burns redemption behind guitar distortion, while Johnson welds his rusty vox onto the delicate rhythm of "Predator" with a haunting want and "Hey-o, Hi-o" hypnotizes behind building dread. "Hatteras" closes stunningly, the gorgeously somber draw of highway lines pulling west, harrowing and hopeful in the same aching breath. Full efforts and attention now focused on his solo work, Johnson delivers his best songwriting since 2004's Vultures Await, desolate and searching but wrought with evocative images and compelling, ambiguous lives.
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