imageAnother Black Hole
Malcolm Holcombe

★★★★

 

Hearing the spit bubble up on Holcombe’s lips is the make or break moment, and goddamned if he didn’t make it.

 

 

 

If the best albums use their opening seconds to indicate what’s in store, then Another Black Hole opens with deception. Based on “Sweet Georgia,” you might be lead to believe that you’re in for a pleasant little twang with a bit of a dark side. It’s fitting, in its way; this is an album about dying, and spitting, and not minding how much you hate it.

The spit’s literal, and it’s remarkable. By “To Get By,” Holcombe’s already talking respiration: “Too young to buy cigarettes, so I stole them for a friend of mine. / He don’t breathe too good these days, but he ain’t given up trying.” Once “Don’t Play Around” hits, Another Black Hole’s revealed its true colors; the wet rage with which he pronounces the sibilant fricative in the line “keep my mouth shut” is supplemented by his own belabored breaths throughout. It takes until “Leavin’ Anna” for Holcombe to lay it out straight; “Florida sunshine baked my bones, all my life I’ve been cold. / Bronchitis, Winston cigarettes, I laid in bed alone.” It’s not some affectation, but it sure is an affect. Hearing a man barely able to breathe is upsetting. Especially when he’s using that barely to sing for you.

What takes Another Black Hole to another level is just how that wet rage is used. On “Papermill Man” it’s fairly straightforward: “Do you live to eat, do you eat to live for a dollar a day on the river / Damn Vanderbilts hold all the keys to the city.” Holcombe’s cynical, and all you need to do is listen to his voice to understand how that might be legitimate; but he’s also down to take aim at the folks that deserve it over some rock ‘n roll. “Leavin’ Anna” is more subtle, and also has one of the single best lines I’ve ever heard in music. “A working man is a working man, makes a delicate flower grow” is such an expansive understanding of labor, and such a beautiful sentiment.

If there’s a single criticism of Another Black Hole, it’s that I really wanted Holcombe to stretch a little more in the direction of PSF Records-era Mikami Kan. But then even by being reminiscent of Kan, Holcombe’s done enough; Another Black Hole is a treasure.