The Parts That Showed is the sophomore album release by the Viking Moses an outfit that was initiated by Southern Missourian Brendon Massei in 2003. Their latest album was recorded on the Oldham family farm in central Kentucky by Paul Oldham (Will’s younger brother and bassist), featuring the talent of Spencer Kingman (of Spenking), John McCauley III (of Deer Tick), Cody Brant and Jacob Soto (of Flaspar) and Evelyn Weston. The Parts That Showed is being released by the Epiphysis label and will be supported by an extensive U.S. tour.
The Parts That Showed is a unique story of a teenage part-time prostitute who spends her earnings buying ice cream for neighborhood children, and of the man who obsesses over her from afar, told from both angles, and spanning their lives. However, the approach of this story intends to transcend taboos and judgment to offer the listener a vast spectrum of the emotion and ideals of the characters, setting and circumstance. This album was written with the dream that it might one day be sung by Dolly Parton, and so pays tribute to her work and inspiration. The initial press reaction has been great as evidenced by the few samples given below. I’m including a link to a lovely ViMo EPK that Alan McGee’s Creation crew made for them: http://www.drop.io/vikingmoses
The Parts That Showed is an album that operates under extensive pressure. A latent struggle is indicated in every one of the album’s movements. This pressure has root in love, society, contradicting feelings, loneliness, and innate guilt. The album accomplishes an incredible feat; it is clearly able to explore a modern struggle. Using personal trysts through misery, the songs become indicative of a much larger and universal theme.
The instrumentation is basic. A nylon string guitar is backed by carefully placed bass, piano, electric guitar and drums. The sound is occasionally touched by the eerie sound of a lonesome saw. Brendon Massei’s sorrowfully pensive voice pierces the music, as if speaking from an antique cabinet.
What is striking about the album is its ability to remain constantly restrained. The songs are filtered and held back, only at moments allowing glimpses of unhindered ecstasy or misery. There is nothing glamorized or over exaggerated. Instead the album opts for a dusty mirrored reflection of life and its confusing nostalgic tendencies.
On the album’s second track, “Old Buck Knife” Massei frankly and sorrowfully states, “I took out my old buck knife/ And pressed it beneath her eye/ And I turned her on her hands to see that she understands/ I’m not to be taken lightly.” There is an extremely malevolent obsession that portrays an unclean aspect of love. These lines are demonstrative of the album’s awareness of an unbalance that is able to smudge of clear-cut vision of existence. Moods contain aspects of their polar opposites, and there is insanity behind the album’s calm demeanor. “Old Buck Knife,” delves into the selfishness that can lead to violence and love’s ability to turn toward hatred.
Massei is also able to take other approaches to love. On his cover of “I Will Always Love You” his voice immediately dismisses the song’s novelty and embraces the song’s hopeless and desperate message. There is a lost desperation in the singer’s unrequited and undying love. The love takes the form of an unwanted disease that is unavoidable, and must take the form of a song. In the linear notes, Massei pays homage, saying, “This album was written with utmost respect and adoration for the lifelong efforts of Dolly Parton.” Massei’s insight into Parton’s music is truly indicative of his talents as a songwriter.
The Parts That Showed culminates in the track, “Little Bows.” The nostalgic tone of the album is explained by the song’s message. “Little Bows,” also has some of the albums finest words. Massei sings, “I miss my little friend/ The one they told me was pretend/ And how we fooled the day/ And how we fooled the day into coming back for us again/ With our little bows/ And our parts that showed/ I want to hear you say/ ‘That a girl, babe, don’t limit your life.'” The song switches into a major chords with the mention of, “Our parts that showed,” as if an exhilarating prescience has been achieved. However, the song eventually fades back into itself. The singer’s former life has been distorted by the contorting grasp of experience. He has been robbed of his imagination, and no longer has any identity or gender. In many ways this song, as well as the album as a whole, is a requiem for a loss. This loss is not one that is tangible, but is elusive in nature. It can only be viewed out of the corner of one’s eye, or felt in the homesick goosebumps of a transient feeling. Timothy Cushing/Stereosubversion.com 10/30
The quiet-music, uber-indie, weirdo-folk, outsider-troubadour scene is peopled with wandering visionaries who live out of their cars, gig all over, and sing with strange and haunting voices, but there are few as mysterious and enigmatic as the itinerant singer-songwriter Brendon Massei, who has worked with Devendra Banhart and performs under the name the Viking Moses. On his sophomore record, Massei sings with a voice that sometimes sounds exhausted, almost tragically depressive, until you realize that it’s a trick of style: He pulls back from each syllable, as if singing through a volume pedal. But that doesn’t even begin to touch on the moving, sad beauty of these slow country-ish songs. His version of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” is a goose-bumpy revelation. John Adamian/Hartford Advocate 10/29
Coming from the extended family of Devendra Banhart could either be a selling point or a detractor assuming that association with king weird beard would translate over into your own highly divided opinions on his music.
Viking Moses does indeed boast a member of Banhart’s entourage in former bass player Barndon Massei, but don’t think they come at all close to sounding like the former Mr. Natalie Portman.
Instead, on the second release by Viking Moses (note: there is nobody in this band actually named Viking Moses), the group finds themselves telling a story from the point of view of a prostitute who uses her money to buy ice cream for children.
It’s pretty strange subject matter, but Viking Moses casts such a level eye on the scenario that they endow their characters the human qualities they deserve and make it all sound like the link between Antony and The Johnsons and Tindersticks. Jay Diamond/Imposemagazine.com 10/28
The Parts That Showed is the second “official” full release from Viking Moses, though there have been a few other non-albums, 7″s, tapes and whatnot between the fist and this. Apparently, or at least according to the band, they’ve tapped Dolly Parton as a huge musical touchstone on this album – “A tale of a teenage part-time prostitute who spends her earnings on ice cream for neighborhood children, and of the man who obsesses over her from afar”? Oh and with for some reason, a cover of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” thrown in for good measure. Well I’m perhaps not as up on my Parton discography as I should be, but the influence escapes me. Nonetheless, this just like the first album, rides well on a mix of melody and sparse production. And even if I’m not sure how the cohesive product turns into such a sordid tale, the individual results are lovely. Brendon Massei’s songs are buoyed by Paul Oldham’s less is more production and recording. Shuffling drums and lazy guitars sway underneath Massei’s voice, sounding alternately upbeat and crushing as the whims take him. Viking Moses were a bit unscrupulously lumped into the (free, freak, acid) folk revival of the last few years but they certainly seem to have more in common with Oldham (and more specifically his brother Will) than the crop of Devendra offshoots they became associated with. This album, finally out of the shadow of those associations, should establish them as a formidable force in songwriting. Andy French/RavenSingsTheBlues.com 10/13
It’s becoming more and more obvious there’s a sub-genre of weird-folk slowly rising. Makes sense in the wake of Primus, Ween, Presidents of the United States, Barenaked Ladies, and such groups in the rock realm. This group is at first a bit puzzling, highlighting the eternally cracking voice of.well, I can’t tell who, as the microscopically tiny credits don’t reveal it (three vocalists are credited, but I’m guessing it’s Branden Messai, the songwriter). At the first cut, I thought “Ya gotta be kidding!”, but, as the songs proceeded and the thematics broadened, backing band and vocals coming in with understated grace, the combination was strangely attractive, possessing a delicacy and heart unpredicted in the opening, beckoning in its frailty.
And if the music is a combination of the head-scratching, unsettling, and graceful, then its words are the equal. The story of a streetwise hardscrabble teen prostitute with a hopeful heart, the narrative may at first superficially seem coy in its treacly sentimental veneer, but the lyrics vanquish that with grit and eye-opening candor, making the listener squirm in the face of such nakedly brutal honesty colored with an accepting use of circumstances on the part of the protagonist, a born survivor. I don’t think this has ever been done before in anywhere near this fashion (except, perhaps, for Doug Cameron’s distasteful take years ago in Mona and the Children), a psycho-drama that’s never been explored in music, but here accomplished with a direct cynicism that shreds rock’s poetic norms to microns. The deeper in you get, in fact, the queasier heart and stomach become, yet the more compelled you are to keep listening.
This is existentialism on a Sartrevian level, and the quavery often oblique singing ever more mirrors the first-person / third-person fragmentation in telling the tale. The matrixing sonics are lower-class, southern mid-west, balladic, roots-folk subtle, and eerie. In fact, everything about this release is deceptive as hell, and I suspect it’s precisely that quality which is gaining this mesmerizingly twisted ensemble the respect it’s slowly garnering. It takes a very different kind of listener to appreciate what turns to be more than a small touch of genius here. I can’t blame those who pass the disc up.but.those who don’t will find themselves in the middle of a totally unexpected experience, one that will not leave the memory easily or quickly. Mark Tucker/AcousticMusic.com 9/15/08