Music: Granting musical wishes
Free Press Music Columnist
Having just passed through the season of “Year’s Best” lists, you may have thought you had successfully ducked discussion of Craven’s favorite album of 2013.
There’s still time — just turn the page now, and thank your lucky stars you dodged a bullet. Or don’t, and learn about an astonishingly talented performer who hails from Colorado (although he now makes Reykjavik, Iceland his home). He also produced what narrowly squeaked past Neko Case’s latest album to land as Craven’s choice for best album of the just completed year.
At first glance, Craven might have thought he wouldn’t find much to identify with in the works of John Grant, an openly gay, HIV-positive singer-songwriter nine years his junior. But few albums have landed an emotional punch on yours truly like Grant’s second solo album, “Pale Green Ghosts,” which came out back in March, but which Craven only fully explored in December.
While many of the songs on “Pale Green Ghosts” specifically address Grant’s sexuality and health status, Craven was startled by how much he related to Grant’s musical tales of struggling with self-loathing and slowly learning to accept and honor oneself.
Grant grew up in Parker, Colo.
“Pale Green Ghosts” is a reference to the Russian olive trees he would see as a young man on Interstate 25, driving between Denver and Boulder, which became a metaphor for his urge to leave his small town and find a place for himself in a bigger world.
In the 1990s, Grant led a critically acclaimed Denver band called the Czars, who made international ripples with six albums they released between 1996 and 2005. For awhile after the band broke up, Grant continued performing under the “Czars” name, but eventually launched a solo career with the 2010 album, “Queen of Denmark.”
With his deep baritone (sounding a bit like Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields, with whom Grant also shares a penchant for clever and unexpected wordplay in his lyrics), Grant turned some heads with “Queen of Denmark.” But that album didn’t prepare listeners for the brutal honesty of “Pale Green Ghosts,” and it is that honesty which makes the latter such an amazing and powerful album.
Anyone who has ever tussled with toxic shame can relate to songs like “GMF,” the main chorus of which includes a four-syllable profanity that will keep it off the air and unquoted in columns like this one, but which speaks resonantly about the endeavor to love yourself when you have been conditioned for years to despise instead.
In other songs, Grant brings the same pellucid truthfulness to examining broken relationships, and once again the feelings of self-reproach, anger and loathing he communicates transcend the details of gender preference.
“Pale Green Ghosts” has placed or topped many “Best of 2013” lists. Here’s to hoping John Grant’s future offerings are plentiful, because there’s good reason to believe he can find lodging in the “Best of’s” of 2014 and beyond, if he so cares.
And if your tastes run to emotionally potent lyrics ensconced in strong melodies and beautiful harmonies, do yourself the favor of being haunted by some “Pale Green Ghosts” right away.
Craven Lovelace is the producer of the Notes Blog & Podcast at http://cravenlovelace.com/notesblog. He also writes about popular culture at the Cravenomena blog: http://cravenlovelace.com/cravenblog. You may find him on Facebook as well.
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