Blake Atkinson

It’s been more than a decade since Tom Waits released new music, and if you’re anything like me, that would give you a sharp tang of dread each time you remember. Will he ever make another album? Is he retired? But we haven’t had enough, we collectively need more Tom Waits, as a race. But while the man and his music are irreplaceable, inimitable, and unequaled, at least his legacy will last with us for ages to come, may he have sound and boundless health.

Enter Tim Mechling. Tim is a master of dodging fame, illusive, unique, and seemingly invisible, in his own words, a maker of commercially unviable music. A Washington native, who collaborates with apparent locals to record full-blown albums with haste in his home studio, not exactly a recipe for much, until you hear what he manages to pull off. After a couple of singles and a couple of EPs, this release is the first actual full-length feature, and what a feature it is. The Decline of the Flies and the Rise of Spiders is as anthemic and as detrimental as its title suggests. Full of striking musical and lyrical colors, Tim admittedly said that Tom Waits was one of the primary influences for this project, and it takes a really short while to see exactly how this influence kicks. Military marshes, drunken sermons, gruesome murders, and instrumental adventuring all are mainstays on the length of this release. Let’s discuss more.

Death Rattle/Shadows Eat the Sun starts the album with a deep, chilling ambiance that eventually blooms into a warm, dark, and brooding acoustic that sits comfortably front and center, with hints of lows hitting a different speaker than hints of highs. A beautifully mixed performance. The words are just as chilling. The decidedly vaudeville music, fractured by the modern statement “Put rebar in my spine to fix unsightly scoliosis”. is one instance of Tim mixing vintage, detuned soundscapes with modern imagery, which for me, helped in grounding the words from being excessively fantastical, giving a precious air of credibility to the lyrical content. The ghostly pads that invade the scene about halfway in are a thing to behold. Feels strange to have such a stunning highlight that early in the runtime. A distinctly gorgeous moment is when the string quartet hits for the dramatic crescendo, with one question persisting, where is the Bass.

The American Civil War & Sherman’s March to the Sea are a conjoined twin. Nearing six minutes of instrumental hammering, the first cut is a military drum marsh that fires up the troops, before they marsh in a retreat to the sea, lost, endangered, to the sound of piercing, wailing guitars. The Arsonist is a centerpiece that blends in a little more than Tom Waits in the mix. Rocking, pounding, with massive drums and bass and a guitar solo that blinds the senses with the scope of its distortion, it reprises to the descending progression of the first cut with a dazzling detuned piano that fades into the next track. Early Retirement starts the horror phase of the record. Spooky dissonance in the detuned arpeggios, the ghostly choir and the spectral strings that tear the hearts to shreds. The deep bass covers the arrangement with a layer of unerring desolation. The Language of the Lord is pure Waits charm. A drunken sermon that straddles a fine line between non-sensical blasphemous babbling and high-brow philosophical preaching. A true delight that I truly didn’t expect from someone whose name isn’t Tom Waits.  

If I had to choose a centerpiece, a lead single, a standout moment, Sebastian & Kip would be it in less than a heartbeat. From the gargantuan guitar motif, the earth-shaking bass, the dramatic progression, to the constant, swift, emergent increase in scope, this is more than a musical mouthful. Then the story unfolds, and a modern masterpiece unfolds alongside it. Grotesque, fearless, and shocking, Tim tells the story of an unfortunate twin that made my spine sing with shivers.

Sebastian & Kip is a hard high to recover from, leaving the remaining 2 songs diminishing afterwards. The Vulgar Death of Aggie O’Connell tells another twisted story, but on a far more pristine and delicate backdrop, bookended by a distorted guitar solo that’s missing something untouchable, and the 9-minute closer is a very long and reassuring moment of the light at the end of the tunnel, a beautiful, sunlit instrumental arrangement.

While the civil war concept dissipates prematurely, and the bass spurts out at seemingly random moments, this album is definitely not without flaws, but the flaws are obviously a part of its charm. Lo-fi-ly hi-fi, warmly chilling, humanly haunting, an album of artistic contradiction that perhaps sums up the mess of the human mind, or maybe Tim Mechling’s mind alone. And it’s a mess that will be commercially unviable, but the chosen few of us who stumble upon it, it will forever be our very own harrowing delight.