OPEN HEART, OPEN VOICE Jacob Augustine. CREDIT Shervin Lainez.
Since not long after the January 2009 release of Harmonia, many of us have been waiting for Jacob Augustine's next move. A deep and powerful album, Augustine's first effort also managed to be incredibly catchy, a folk-rock work that could affect your mood in any number of ways, from the raw escapist energy of "The City" to the melancholic hope of "Change."
This week, Augustine rewarded that nearly three-year wait for a follow-up with three separate works, all released on the same day, digitally, via his Bandcamp site, asking fans to simply pay what they could. In simplistic terms, Frontier is a nine-song "proper" album, with full-band arrangements as created during the days when Jacob's backing band were the expansive House of Fire, and were playing out regularly. Goldyhymns is a six-song EP of Augustine's vocals, often operatic, accompanied solely by acoustic guitar, recorded live at Mayo Street Arts. The Original Love is something in between, with a few ultra-stark tunes and others multi-instrumented, though its feel is like a B-side disc to accompany Frontier.
Throughout the entirety of the 24 total songs, Augustine continues his exploration of the religious and the mystical. God, heaven, hell, the devil, and existential questions populate just about every tune here, along with other weighty subjects like love, loss, and drug addiction. These works are as introspective as anything you've heard: "My life is like a black rosary that hangs off a rearview mirror," Augustine sings on "Coyote," which opens Frontier.
He follows that up with "Methadone," which works on a few levels, whether as a confession, as an imagined narrative, or as a relationship metaphor: "I need you like a bird needs wings/And I need you like people need things/And I need you like God is love/And I need you like the devil needs souls."
These pieces are full of plaintive violin from Megan Martelle, bleating baritone sax from Brian Graham, chiming bells from Erin Libby, an accordion drone from Frank Hopkins. All through it, Augustine soars above, just on the edge of falsetto.
By "Catalina" (the "I" pronounced long), there is a building tension, a desperation for release, like a big chorus or a crescendo, but it never comes. Rather, as Augustine tells us "I hate this feeling of being alone," Micah Maurio's trumpet gets moody alongside Bob Hamilton's banjo, and the seven-minute tune takes three minutes to end.
"Naked Knife" is the apex, starting as something of a dirge crossed with a Texas two-step, then cutting to the quick with a soaring chorus of voices: "Don't be frightened, it's just lightning/Lights in the sky again/Knives in the sky again." It's genuinely thrilling.
These songs are long and demanding, none more so than the finish of the first disc, "Feverland." At more than 13 minutes, it's a mash-up of folk, prog-rock, and abstract jazz. An acoustic guitar line, single notes moving up and down the strings, continues through the entire song like a heartbeat, exhausting in its unrelenting simplicity.
Simplicity is Goldyhymns' calling card, though it is paradoxically less accessible for its spareness. Augustine at times moves toward the likes of an Italian tenor, taking up minutes with "oooh-oooh" vocal meandering. This makes his directness all the more unnerving: "Time to meet God/Is there something you'd like to ask him?"