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The Gunshy

By: Julia Simon

If Matt Arbogast’s debut as the Gunshy wasn’t enough to catapult him into the storytelling ranks of Destroyer’s Dan Bejar and Silver Jews’ David Berman — those kings of self-referential literariness — his sophomore LP, Souls, will. Through pursed lips, this Pennsylvania native coughs out grating metaphors like “she’s the nicotine I don’t need” (“My Nicotine, My Whiskey”) and pens Waitsian cautionary tales lamenting love.

In fact, the Gunshy’s gravelly utterances channel Tom Waits to near perfection. It seems that at any moment Arbogast’s own voice might swallow him whole as he churns through lyrics that seem gleaned from On the Road. “Last Songs,” a bildungsroman of ill-fated love, culminates with the same regression most of the album’s tracks take: Arbogast muffles his mumble to near-inaudible levels at the end of each line, dousing them with a sense of his withered self. “These songs will be my life,” he sings, for I was made to preach the haunted truths of those who will never be satisfied.”

Underneath all the lyrical depressives Arbogast doles out, though, there are uplifting snare rhythms and optimistic blasts from ceremonial horns. Only on rare occasions do the singer’s organ-driven codas dissolve into dirges, but the sonic discourse mostly avoids being crushed under Arbogast’s lyrical weight. In this schism, verses become redundant: “I’m sorry all I could do was apologize,” he sings on “Spanish Girl.” Still, the lyrical tension is wholly humanizing and hauntingly palpable.

Arbogast will perform with a full-band version of the Gunshy on Jan. 18 at Schuba’s Tavern in Chicago; members of Troubled Hubble (read more) will round out the lineup, and Get Him Eat Him (read more) supports.

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