Clean up your apartment; discard the things you keep out of mere habit. Sweep the dust into a dustpan and scatter it outside. Draw the blinds shut and sit in a chair with a hard back. Only then should you put on Timothy Dick's On a Grassblade, a quiet, solitary album that requires and rewards your full attention. It's a work for monastics and hermits, heretics and romantics, a record so subtle it verges on subliminal. Gruff and world-weary, Dick's voice hums beneath the surface; his instrumentation is soft and spare, consecrated by intervals of negative space. His words are impressively precise too, excised and martyred, stretched out and scraped up. On the ballad "Awfully Large Tears For Such A Pretty Face," Dick croaks, "I may seem like a hard man/ Immune to all catastrophe/ But... I couldn't calm the sea." On "California," he sounds even more defeated, simply noting, "All that's left is lost in California."
Throughout, Dick sings with muddy hands and a trampled heart; his songs arrive dressed in the sleeves of dusty blues records. Timeless in the literal sense, they sound like remnants of some ramshackle era. Or they travel windborne like seedlings—wispy, surrendered, nearly invisible. As of yet, there's no telling if they'll survive the winter, let alone sprout new life when they land. But it's that knowledge, that roughshod truth, that gives these songs their vulnerability and their singer his resonance. It's those same feelings, of loss, resurgence and promise, that make me want to clean house and start over anew. To keep playing this record until it has time to fully sink in and take root.
* MP3: "Florence" - Timothy Dick from On a Grassblade [Buy it]
* Previously: The best 30 songs of 2007
* Also: The Torture Garden on On a Grassblade