Some kinda blue
The mythical melancholy of the Satyrs
The traditional image of the satyr is repeated throughout Greek mythology: a nubile creature with the torso of a man and the legs and horns of a goat, gleefully rocking the Pipes of Pan whilst trucking through the undergrowth of some forest primeval. It's a little hard, though, to reconcile this hedonistic image with the debut album from the Satyrs, a band whose gossamer arrangements and moody, hypnotic demeanor suggest something slightly more cerebral than cruising the tree line for wood nymphs. The Satyrs match the musical temperament and street smarts of a laconic Velvet Underground with the deadpan lyricism of Elliot Smith. Their self-titled debut is choked with mournful tunes of alienation and lovesick hearts gone astray. The Memphis trio conjures anguished musical scenarios seemingly extracted from the notebooks of some long-dead belletrist: the calm in the eye of a Dionysian shitstorm, a ghostly tea kettle whistling on the stove in the Soul Kitchen. Each song is a tortured requiem, coupling singer/guitarist Jason Paxton's shamanistic vocalizations and lilting guitar with the telltale-heart rhythm section of bassist John Blalock and drummer Angela Horton.
Singer/guitarist Paxton, 22, says that good fortune has at last begun to smile on the Satyrs, who've been performing together in one form or another since 1996. "We're from Memphis, and it's nearly impossible for any band around here to get on a label. We're one of the few bands to get lucky and release an album on a label [Black Dog Records] that's got some kind of notoriety and distribution and whatnot."
But even with the support of Black Dog, the vagaries of recording their debut proved a trying experience for the band. "It was tough," Paxton says. "It was a lot of recording and re-recording and overdubs. And although we work as a three-piece, I write the majority of the parts for everything. It takes a while to do overdubs by yourself when you don't have other people pitching in ideas."
Though recording the album may have been a chore, The Satyrs has an effortlessness and ease uncommon for a first release. Standout tracks include the epic, eight-minute-plus introduction, "This Song Is Blue," the sweeping and oddly Wagnerian "Fate and the Golden Wand," the beautiful and blustery "With You," and the lush and moody, pedal-steel adorned "One Philosophy." Paxton adds that a handful of the tunes on the album have a history as old as the band itself, dating back to their earliest hometown set lists.
"Some of these songs are old, and I wanted to release them," he explains. "I didn't want to throw them away. All of them are pretty deep and come from a lot of contemplation."
The Satyrs also reveal an affinity for the abstract human condition, as evidenced in the album's closer, a curiosity titled "A Tribute to the Great Joseph Cary Merrick." It's an instrumental nod to the tragic figure better-known as the Elephant Man, which features Paxton on piano.
"He got shit on his whole life and he didn't take anything for granted," Paxton says of Merrick. "While most people have minor complications in their lives and blow it up to huge proportions, he was happy with life in general. I think he's a pretty inspiring guy."
The Satyrs play Sat., Oct. 12 at the Earl.