Rock critic Griel Marcus famously referred to the tunes preserved on Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music as remnants of the “old weird America.” By that token, the songs laid down here by H.C. Slim may someday be thought of as “old weird Finland.” Referred to by his U.K. publicist as an outsider artist, “evangelical visionary, and wayward preacher,” Slim creates eerie, dark Americana-style music from his home deep in the countryside of eastern Finland. His home-recorded demos have circulated on cassettes and CD-Rs, and now the Finnish label Svart, better known for death metal, has put out his debut full-length release.
H.C. Slim Sings is by turns whimsical and apocalyptic, gay and gothic. It begins in the whimsical vein with “Boat By The Sea,” a beguiling tale of finding an abandoned boat with which he engages in an existential dialogue, accompanied by a similarly beguiling country-folk fingerpicking display on the acoustic guitar. Slim definitely has a gothic Christian sensibility, and his particular philosophical bent shows through in the song’s thinly veiled metaphor.
From beguiling and whimsical we go directly to apocalyptic in the second track. “The City Is Burning” is a slightly demented waltz-time screed in which the singer doesn’t exactly celebrate that “all things must burn,” but nor does he mourn it.
Though not demos, these recordings have a rough-hewn feel to them. Slim’s quavery tenor is accompanied for the most part just by his guitar, which he plucks and strums like a denizen of a Greenwich Village coffeehouse. Though the songs draw on the subject matter that you’d find in abundance in Appalachia, the lyrics’ not-quite-grammatical construction occasionally betrays their origin in the mind and tongue of a non-native English speaker. There’s the quirky murder ballad, for example, in which he sings of the titular “Five Maiden” as though “maiden” were plural. It only adds to the dark and chilling nature of the song, which comes off as the quasi-reasonable raving of a demented street preacher, which is belied by the calm, folksy guitar figure that accompanies it.
Some if not most of these songs sound like they could come from a Coen Brothers film, including the dark ballad of anthropophagy “Come My Love.” Or “I Saw A Man,” in which some folks come upon a hanged man and argue over whether to take a photograph of him, the absurd atmosphere heightened by Dylanesque harmonica wailings. There’s a quavering slide guitar, or maybe it’s a synthesizer or a bowed saw, highlighting the weirdness in “Cherubim” in which angels come to chastize the singer for writing songs about them and he rhapsodizes about the dead people he knows singing worship songs from their graves. The dirge-like “Keep Your Eyes On The Road,” about being lost and trying to find your way home again, bumps up against the jaunty, irreverent “Sweet Virgin Mary” about everybody’s favorite saint. As the record’s 12 tracks wind down, a man feels compelled to obey a vision that tells him to drown himself in a mountain lake (“I Obeyed A Heavenly Vision”), only to be redeemed in the end by the final track “Over River Jordan,” a gentle upbeat gospel with a slight reggae feel contributed by the full band – bass, drums and backing vocals.
If you fancy this sort of dark Americana with a Nordic sensibility, you can learn more and order this one on the Svart Records website.