David Thomas Broughton

Anchovies EP

(Golden Lab Records; 2006)

By Peter Hepburn | 23 February 2006

Every once and awhile providence smiles and an artist who so entirely deserves it gets him or herself a label deal, the beginnings of the critical attention they deserve, and may even start to pick up a fan base. Sure, most of the time this doesn’t pan out and you end up flipping burgers or writing music criticism on the web in an increasingly drunken stupor, but now and again things work out.

The last time I wrote about David Broughton, almost a year ago, I called his album, The Complete Guide to Insufficiency, “one hell of a debut, and easily one of the finest records of 2005.” It’s an assertion I stand by, and Insufficiency ended up falling at a cool #20 on the CMG year-end list for 2005. Of course, back then you pretty much had to email David to get a copy of the record; now you can buy it on iTunes for $4.95. (And really, what else were you gonna do with that 5 bucks?)

So what does Broughton do to follow up his startlingly original debut record? Pretty much all the right things.

First up, he doesn’t try to get any more mileage out of the production shtick of Insufficiency. Anchovies was not recorded in a church and it was not recorded in one take. Rather, Broughton did it at home, on Garageband (what, you were expecting production values?) with as many takes as needed. While the title track might have been pulled off just as well with the Insufficiency aesthetic, both “The Window” and “Liberazione” require the sort of tender looping and splicing that needs just a bit more shine around the edges.

Second, he isn’t just singing the same songs, nor does he try to. My first impression of Anchovies, and one that holds even after a dozen listens, is that it’s a far more accessible, relaxed affair. Insufficiency was held together by the stark beauty of Broughton’s voice and the dark, haunting lyrics. With this EP he seems more playful, especially on the b-side. While that may sound like a bad thing (try to imagine Antony singing about something that’s not sexual confusion), he manages to come off as both sincere and perhaps more creative than even I gave him credit for.

Opener “Anchovies” is as captivating (and flawed) as anything on Insufficiency. Broughton opens with the resigned declaration that, “I’m not ill, I’m not unwell / but I’m gonna call in sick to work today.” Lyrically he steers clear of the sort of dark, sexual imagery he worked so well on Insufficiency, instead working it into an actually pretty gorgeous love song. The guitar picking is well done if not great, and the acoustic middle section is a bit rocky (and arguably unnecessary), but whenever he opens his mouth he just puts most of his freak-folk kin to shame.

The b-side, however, is where things really get weird. Both songs are delivered acapella, and it gives him a chance to flaunt a vocal versatility that didn’t fully come through on Insufficiency. “The Window” opens with some field recordings of cars driving by (anyone remember Devendra Banhart’s first album?), and then lets loose with a chorus of Broughtons that’s so eerie and beautiful it manages to cut deeper than the sort of intricate overlays that Antony did so well on I am a Bird Now. The suicide fantasy lyrics are nearly obscured by the multiple performances, just letting the ghostly last line, “it’s the last clean up job you’ll have done,” ring out.

Closer “Liberazione” (check Broughton’s MySpace page), one-ups both Antony and Devendra, taking the sort of freak-soul they’ve been working on to a new level. Broughton pulls out the stops, providing all the bass lines, wah-wahs, and backing vamps himself, building up an elaborate backdrop for a bittersweet lament. “I am the cold ground / and you are the hard rain / I dunno why / we can never compliment each other,” he wails, making a concept that would sound forced from nearly anyone else come off as both natural and honest.

While there’s a part of me that would be thrilled to hear these songs properly laid down with some actual production values and minus the odd bump and crash (or that awkward ending on “Liberazione”), there’s an endearing intimacy to the raw edits. Sure, it’s only three songs, but this is a guy who now has a grand total of eight songs under his recording career belt. It’s still almost 20 minutes of new music from one of the most important up and coming musicians out there.