If there’s one thing about which we can all agree, surely it’s this: There is something mightily cathartic about a guy screaming “GO TO HEEEELLLL!!” over a sprawling jungle of percussion, piano, guitar, bass, and, uh, kitchen knives and sugar shakers. In yet another of David Ford’s “one camera, one take” videos, this time for the debut single from his new album Songs For the Road, Ford begins the way he always does: as quietly unassuming as possible. Stirring his morning coffee with a spoon as he leans against a counter behind him, it seems to dawn on Ford that this, too, is an occasion for song, as he soon slaps together some steel utensils to initiate another endlessly textured soundscape that progresses to achieve the roar of the wronged and heartbroken.
Like an intolerably suspenseful moment in some pyschological thriller that leaves your girlfriend shivering under the seat and you clutching the gallon of coke you shoved in the armrest, the phenomenally talented Ford builds an increasingly roiling ocean of sound, playing every instrument himself. You never know what flourish may strike his muse next–perhaps the flicker of a banjo, perhaps a sugar shaker, maybe a guitar and a few sly strokes of a drum.
The sum of all these parts equates to a revival of the now-stale talent of David Gray, who so sadly abandoned the spare and genuine joys of earlier works like Sell, Sell, Sell for the disastrously overproduced catastrophe of Life in Slow Motion, his once-gritty tales of loss and self-discovery grown syrupy with a decadent serving of schmaltz. Sure, there’s a hell of a lot going on in any given David Ford song–enough to floor you with the anxious feeling of crossing some cab-strangled intersection in NYC with a kid tucked in your arm–but never does any of it smack of the kind of desperation Gray’s more recent work wreaks of.
David Ford: “Go To Hell,” Songs For the Road
Aside from that esteemed but fallen predecessor, much of Ford’s work settles into the hypnotic and atmospheric folk of, say, Daniel Lanois, thick with the layered percussion and nuance Lanois’s staked his claim in. Come to think of it, Ford’s rockin’ his garish caps and five o’clock shadow too–but his sound isn’t nearly so claustrophobic as to produce Lanois’s boringly characteristic Here Is What Is (I love ya, Daniel, but you’re one dude who’s in desperate need of a musical makeover.)
Few artists convey such a jubilant pursuit of creative discovery as Ford. While his one-take videos are certainly more calculated than he lets on, they nonetheless come off as products of a brave and curious imagination. Tracks like “State of the Union” and “Go To Hell” showcase a willingness to abandon himself to any flight of melody and wander wherever it may lead; each new note enters the song like a match struck against the surface of his vision. After a few of these one-take videos, though, the device of layering sound upon sound as he roams a cluttered studio and dubs one instrument over another to create a gradual crescendo can become a tired shtick. Ironically, the very spontaneity he seems to be aiming for can also be the very thing that threatens his sound with utter predictability.
But there’s something about seeing him pull all this off live, a ballsy nod to the one-man band in which a guitar case factors into the mix as much as the guitar inside it, that makes the ticket you bought to see it worth every last dime. If you happen to be close enough to any of the tour dates below, I wouldn’t miss it if I were you–especially the first four, where he will appear on the same bill as Aimee Mann: