Colliding the wonderment of tragedy and the bewildering virtue of romantic love, these songs are not lullabies.
They are raw emotions straight from your nerve endings.
Every so often an album comes along which doesn’t just speak to you, but explains you. A record so good, it actually travelled back in time to find the roots of who you are. Then it carefully, so cautiously, plays these elements of your soul back at you. These songs are testaments of both beauty and profound insight. Skin and Bone must have broken the laws of physics, because I connected with it this much.
One point I would like to get out of the way real quick is that David J Roch is an undertaker. No I’m not kidding. An undertaker. Does this make him any more qualified to sing songs about darkness and despair? To be honest, I wouldn’t have thought so. Especially considering his songs concern mostly loneliness and unrequited love. Unless he is an undertaker at a speed dating centre, I’m not sure his occupation should lend more drama to his work. The tragedy of loss is never more finite than with death and grief. Surely then this means an undertaker would only be more malleable or flexible when it came to these concepts. Not as devastatingly honest and open as Roch is in Skin and Bone.
I became lost in the absolute wretchedness of the song, whilst admiring the simple beauty of it.
David J Roch does state that he was inspired by the imagery and words used in funerals, how they penetrate the layers of life and love. So he took these layers, played with them, producing a fun, dark sound that I must say I revelled in.
Roch used to go by the stage name Little Lost David, showing an early obsession with maudlin themes. Now he has grown. Changed shape into a larger but just as lost David if his lyrics are anything to go by. But it is the honest catharsis of his continually misplaced state that fuels his artistry.
Produced by Jim Sclavunos (who has worked with the likes of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and Grinderman), Skin and Bones is David J Roch’s debut album and shows oodles of promise. Even the label Dram Records, was designed by Ian Ramage expressly for the purpose of releasing this album. Talk about confidence. Inspired by jazz divas, folk legends and philosophical poets, this album is no light read.
The record begins with ‘The Lost Child’, which immediately demonstrates not only Roch’s skill with an acoustic guitar but his remarkable singing range. The brass orchestration enters in sideways, delivering a dramatic conquest of the song. Roch’s incredibly high falsetto is triumphant in the face of the darkness to come. With hindsight, this opening track describes him, the David J Roch that only has or needs love to get by. It’s the foundation on which this album is based, even if it only works out happily in 20% of the songs.
Talk about confidence. Inspired by jazz divas, folk legends and philosophical poets, this album is no light read.
We encounter the understated addition of female vocals in the second track. ‘Hour of Need’ delivers a sad love song with sweet humility, this appearing to be Roch’s signature style. Interwoven with the alluring feminine harmony, the song isn’t overpowering but nevertheless vivid.
In Skin and Bone there is not an overpowering voice or instrument to be found, the focus is placed on what is not being played. The pauses, the silences, the breaths. It’s like listening to the singing of Harold Pinter’s mind.
With Roch’s incredibly high pitched voice the third song, ‘Evil’s Pillow’ shifts from a muted prayer into an indie ballad. The repetition of “No I won’t let you take this love from my heart” could be seen as uninventive. However, the amazing range of Roch’s voice and the obvious sincerity in which he sings the lines gives the song power.
‘Devil Don’t Mind’ is a tantric folk melody whose lyrics resonate with the darkest blues. The subtle development leads to a climatic, organ grinding Faustian spiral into eclipsing paranoia.
The track ‘Lonely and Unfinished’ has a key line that says it all- “love is splendid agony”. I don’t know what happened to David J Roch to make him accept this philosophy, but I really want to give him a hug. It is imbued with enough heartache to make a gremlin cry. The shadowy surface of Roch’s heart and mind is highlighted here. If contentment is the bane of creation, then this album is a masterpiece of dissatisfaction.
The one solid, monogamous love song is ‘Only Love’. Its beginning is relatively rather chipper, even when the following words reverberate through your tear ducts:
Only love, only love matters. Just be brave and don’t fall apart
Considering the total desolation of the previous tracks, shouldn’t he be telling himself this? One can only hope that this shows David J Roch still desperately believes in love even though it apparently keeps kicking him in the balls.
The female vocal returns, a slightly lower key to the ridiculously high notes of Roch’s voice. Complimenting the comparatively get up and go attitude of this number.
Conversely ‘Dew’ is a fatalistic love song, about a girl he loves that he has not met, seen only from afar. This conceptually pinpoints Roch’s musical character- The combination of creepy stalker with sultry romantic, achieving deliciously eerie results.
The songs ‘Skin and Bones’ and ‘Bones’ are aptly named, as they are the open wound that is David J Roch. These are his emotional viscera laid bare for your examination.
The subtle development leads to a climatic, organ grinding Faustian spiral into eclipsing paranoia.
The title track delicately leads to a magnificent crescendo, utilising just gentle strumming and that same discrete female harmony. Yet a soul wrenching climax is reached, the brass section charging in like folk music ninja.
‘Bones’ has the same sweet melancholia, but there is no climatic reprieve. You are left to swim in the darkness he weaves with the light sound of bells and intricate guitar work. I became lost in the absolute wretchedness of the song, whilst admiring the simple beauty of it.
Needless to say, please use this album with caution.
Now we get to the crux of the matter. ‘Yours’ is a great finale. Roch has created an album with a narrative that depicts a torn and beaten romantic, whom after all the wounds and losses still declares his undying love at the very end. A fool he may be, but once a loveless romantic, always a loveless romantic. The sudden punch of Roch’s voice as ‘Yours’ comes to an end, louder and stronger than ever before shows the true nature of such unfailing feeling. Love makes pain, but pain makes music.
Needless to say, please use this album with caution.
The mild concern would be that this album has too much angst. That it is so rife with it, only Emo kids could possibly enjoy the music. Poppy cock. Roch’s music is a wounded soldier of misfortune, a bard of loss and a poet of grief. That is the true beauty of this album, inevitably you will be overwhelmed. Eventually the listener will undoubtedly succumb to lying in a foetal position and screaming at the sky;
I am skin and bones.
Skin and Bones by David J Roch out now on Dram Records.
The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance. – Aristotle