(Not on Label)
Today, we’re lucky to premiere the debut self-titled album from Chicago singer-songwriter C.W. Franz.
Leading a rotating cast of more than 40 contributors, C.W. Franz crafts deceptively lonely and intimate chamber folk reminiscent of the work of Mark Kozelek, characterized largely by a massive yet tastefully implemented selection of instrumentation. From the Greek bouzouki on “Reagan National” and the Russian balalaika on “Baltimore, Texas”, to the udu (Nigerian implosive aerophone) on “Rapture” and pandeiro (Brazilian hand frame drum) on closer “Coming Home (The Illinois Prairie)”, the sounds on display are vast and worldly in service to songs that are insular and focused in their vision. It’s the music of introverts who try to pull in bits of the outside world to keep sane. The instruments mentioned don’t even begin to scratch the surface. You’ll also find guitars of the acoustic, electric, classical, steel, and bass varieties, double bass, viola, violin, cello, cuatro (Venezuelan), sitar (Indian), mandolin, keyboards, Hammond organ, harmonica, piano, flute, oboe, clarinet, saxophone, flugelhorn, trombone, drums, vibraphone, and Omnichord. It’s an absolute smorgasbord of sound.
Franz’s lyrics, again much like Kozelek’s, are naturally poetic but in form are closer to literary prose. He’s not concerned with big choruses or rhyme schemes or even abstract metaphor, preferring to stew in plain-spoken existentialism, often dealing in themes of romanticism. Franz notes that his music is rather autobiographical, and one can infer that he’s the type to fall in love fast, hard, and often, with many of these whirlwinds of emotions dying out before they can even escape him and be known, destined to live one invisible tragedy after another. This sounds heavy but luckily Franz is also able to balance this with a charm and sense of humor his contemporaries can often lack. One of the best lines on the album is also the silliest: “Sliding into Ben’s Chili Bowl / Digging into a sloppy burger” (“Reagan National”). The delivery is what really drives it home: it’s weary and warbling, tired and drunk, a bit sad and a bit funny. Just as you let out a conflicted but relieved chuckle, Franz crushes you with the lines that follow: “Next to businessmen in their sharp attire / Inbound waiting for them are their loving families and careers / The demons within / Can’t strangle them now / These men loosed that vice many years ago / Into something more useful than childish fantasy”.
“Reagan National”, and the whole album for that matter, is an almost disturbingly personal look into the mindset of Franz. Songwriters often laud their work as deeply personal, but most still obfuscate to some degree in the name of commercialism or conversely, ‘art’. There’s no such compromise made here. Rather than make something to mindlessly bob our heads to or something be impressed by at arms length, Franz has opted to give us an album that is both easy and worth connecting with in meaningful ways.
You can stream C.W. Franz’s s/t album below:
Favorite tracks: “Reagan National”, “Baltimore, Texas”
Rating: Strongly Recommended
C.W. Franz’s s/t officially releases tomorrow (June 21) digitally. The album is available for pre-order here right now.