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Alasdair Roberts - The Wyrd Meme

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Artist: Alasdair Roberts

Album: The Wyrd Meme

Label: Drag City

Review date: Oct. 16, 2009

For those still digesting Spoils, Alasdair Robertsís oft-impenetrable album from earlier this year, the prospect of another Roberts release so soon is kind of intimidating. In my review, I pegged Spoils as ďsimply another engrossing chapter in an incredible story,Ē but after spending a few months with it, itís lyrical tangles and structural shifts still havenít settled. Unlike the comparatively breezy The Amber Gatherers and the straightforward, brilliant ballad collection No Earthly Man, Spoils remains stubbornly locked within itself, its moments of clarity and emotional connection lost in the storytelling fog. The joy in Robertsís work is in struggling through the thicket and meeting him at the end of the road, but I have to admit that, with Spoils, Iím still not there, which either makes it his richest work or his first overstep. Iím of the sort that wonít tire of trying to crack the album, but I havenít been able to think of it with the same fondness as I do the others.

I approached The Wyrd Meme with some trepidation, thinking that Roberts might attempt to further confound, but itís actually a perfect complement to Spoils. It distills the albumís sprawl into four tales that offer footholds and entry points. Rather than lose himself, Roberts seems more willing to guide.

This isnít to say that The Wyrd Meme is accessible. No Earthly Man remains the best entry point into Robertsís world, for it offers both context and the thrill of pure narrative. His other works, The Wyrd Meme included, heavily subject those narratives to myth, dreams, modernity, metaphors, allegories and stark emotion, all with a lightly disorienting psychedelic touch. Itís difficult and tricky listening, but when the fog clears and a track hits, Roberts is untouchable.

Perhaps itís due to the compact nature of the EP, but The Wyrd Meme seems as succinct and direct as Roberts the songwriter can be. It would still take pages to fully unpack these tracks, but they mainly revolve around two themes: loneliness and storytelling, with the latter a substitute for the former. Roberts says as much in a delicate, careful way in ďThe Yarn UnravellerĒ: ĒI would love to go along with you / I would love to be your fellow traveler / If thatís not to be / Then itís not to be / And instead Iíll be your yarn unraveller.Ē

Still, sitting and recounting is not enough. In fact, according to ďThe Royal Road at the End of the World,Ē itís mankindís undoing, equal to the worst of our nature and what our imaginations can conjure. The adventurer confronts the storyteller, "Oh no, the ourobouros looms in the sky before us / Morphs into a foul abraxas / Falls from the sky and attacks us / You think youíre gonna scare me / With your fucking taxidermy?Ē The equivalence is struck after a back and forth between Roberts and his bandmates. Roberts sings, "The world ends in the skirl of the war pipes / The world ends in the mouths of the war dead,Ē with each statement echoed by the band, the music building, but then, suddenly, the band drops out and an accapella Roberts repeats, ďThe world ends in remembrance.Ē He lets the words hang in the air, after which the brief, simple love song ďCoral and TarĒ closes the EP with Roberts repeatedly asking a lover to come over, ďbecause itís been far too long.Ē

Singing, writing and listening are simple compensation for unfulfilled emotions, mere remembrance, as theyíve always been, and any attempt to pretend otherwise would be the end of it all. Not many artists actively encourage the listener to go out and experience the world after vividly describing the perils contained therein, but Roberts makes it clear that doing so is a necessary risk.

By Brad LaBonte

Other Reviews of Alasdair Roberts

No Earthly Man

The Amber Gatherers


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