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Timothy Prudhomme - With the Hole Dug

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Artist: Timothy Prudhomme

Album: With the Hole Dug

Label: Smells Like

Review date: Jul. 22, 2002

I've been truant in writing about Timothy Prudhomme's With the Hole Dug in the hopes that time and a few more listens would transform its overly careful, plodding pace from the vapid to the evocative, and in a sense it's worked. What used to sound dull now sounds a bit more purposeful, and I'm finding that what I disliked about the record the first few times I listened to it wasn't necessarily a shortcoming on Prudhomme's part. It's just that With the Hole Dug very accurately captures that hopelessly inert post-trauma mood when the mere presence of light makes you feel woozy and inane one-syllable words taste like they're being tried out for the first time. One of the very few positives to such a dreadful type of hangover is that clarity tends to make its eventual way through the haze, and when it does, it rides on funny little sideways-hitting waves. To Prudhomme's credit, he manages to encompass the breadth of the condition with some semblance of sobering, temple-throbbing, half-grace.

If you're already thinking Leonard Cohen you're on the right track, and for the non-Fuck initiates (Prudhomme's the singer and rhythm-guitarist for Fuck – we can conveniently call you people virgins) a bar or two of his meandering deep voice won't steer you off. Prudhomme does little to avoid these similarities, either. In addition to mapping similar emotional terrain as Cohen, he does it by way of many of the same methods. He's got a song that takes place at three in the morning instead of four, his razorblades are "exacting" instead of "cold", and when the female harmony first chimes in you almost expect it all to turn into "So Long, Marianne". But the main difference is a critical one; Prudhomme knows that the layman isn't sitting around on Sunday morning with a bottle of aspirin and visions of Jesus and Joan of Arc dancing through his head. He’s the poet Williams to Cohen's Eliot, offering insight through a measured delivery of the everyday diction we feel feverishly steeped in during the long Sunday mornings With the Hole Dug tries to ride out. My favorite example, from "at 3 am": "at 3 am / I hear a knock / at my door / I say who is it / she says it is me. / I open the door / she walks in / she sits down / looks around / and says / it's only me." It’s beautifully calculated, and the rhythm is so precise and perfect that the skeletal arrangement of Doug Easley’s bass, Prudhomme’s guitar, and that low and sleepy, yet strangely booming voice (much of the record sounds like Prudhomme is singing with a mic clipped to the back of his throat – his voice just kind of enters the air and camps out there awhile) are sufficient to carry it through.

With the Hole Dug continues in this vein for the duration of its first side. Little flourishes of organ and Theremin become present, but it’s mostly Prudhomme’s voice at center stage, taking its sweet time in dragging the minutes along. “Twas Not Courage”, the fourth track, is a highlight that easily could have been recorded during the President Yo La Tengo sessions. With a bit more bounce in his step, Prudhomme proceeds to test out slight little vocal embellishments – endearing ornamental crawls up and down a narrow octave range. With the song’s bridge of hapless whistling as the icing on the cake, it’s a sweet little meditation on the fleeting quality of the unabashedly content moment. The next track, however, demonstrates how thin the line this material tiptoes. “Pachabell Blues” is composed of a monotonously droning organ and Prudhomme’s echoing voice, “try(ing) to understand ‘why’?” Because his inflection hardly changes, it’s difficult to take this heartache too much to heart, and the sound of that droning organ is enough to make one imagine the presence of a hard wooden pew beneath the backside.

The second side of With the Hole Dug seems to acknowledge the need to get on with it already, and Prudhomme steps from fare of morbid existentialism and failing relationships into half tongue-in-cheek, country-tinged songs of repentance. He does it without changing his tone too much, or generating any new energy, but his backing band swings a bit more fully to the front of things, with sleepy jukebox-waltzes (“Like a Lullabye”) and narcotized bluegrass (“Love Me, Love Me Not”) to help wind-down the hangover session. It works, too. Lethargy is fluidly converted into ragged world-weariness, and Prudhomme suddenly sounds more like a troubadour worth scooting up to. “Sweetheart O’Mine” is my favorite track on the record, a loping little country ballad that has Prudhomme begging some girl to come and “be my lorelei”. As a plea, it at once sounds comedic and yet somehow sweetly earnest after the trials of the previous half-hour, and you want to chuckle but also feel pleased that for this guy, pulling on some dusty cowboy boots can function as a sufficient confidence booster. It’s a detached kind of pleasure – when its all said and done you don’t feel like you’ve been put through the ringer with him – but it is pleasure all the same.

By Nathan Hogan

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