Roky Erickson & Okkervil River – Goodbye Sweet Dreams

22Jul10

The reverential Roky Erickson has experienced a most tumultuous existence since composing the generation-crossing cult hit ‘You’re going to Miss Me’ aged only 15. His band, the 13th Floor Elevators, were pioneers of psychedelic music, and proponents of psychedelic substances in general, which resulted in Erickson being arrested for the possession of a solitary spliff. His pleading of insanity to beat the charge would see him endure electro-shock treatment which in all likelihood sent his already apparent schizophrenia spiraling. While there was a smattering of solo work in the subsequent decades, it took the establishing of a trust in 2001 by Erckson’s brother before proper treatment for Roky’s condition could be ensured. Nearly 45 years since writing that definitive single, Erickson is back, this album his return from the abyss. Musical accompaniment is provided by fellow Texans Okkervil River, whose singer Will Sheff produced the album, narrowing down these dozen tracks from more than 60 unreleased works which includes songs sourced from manuscripts Erickson wrote whilst being incarcerated in the Rusk State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.

The songs are grittily honest tales of a muddled and marginal existence, and Erickson dealing with, and putting behind him, that chapter of his life. He sings of his house – which he used to have to fill with the noise of various turned up radios and TVs to drown out the voices with his head on ‘Be and Bring Me Home’ where he positively sings “suddenly I’m in control”. You can almost hear the rueful ‘what if?’ flowing through ‘Please Judge’ where Erickson urges said judiciary not to lock a boy away. The next track is just pure menace, with just three lines “I kill people all day long/ I sing my song/’cause I’m John Lawman” repeated over and over and guitars loom and wail. Okkervil River are an almost perfect accompaniment to the raw and ragged musings of Erickson, being used to adding some sonic sheen to the twisted-literary-toned pain of Sheff. The band remain respectfully restrained at times – just leaving the slightly tattered, but still deeply rich voice to shine through – and buoyantly uplifting in others, providing the emotional crutch to help him through the other side. The album is at times sombre, often startling, strange and perverse, but endlessly rewarding.

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