Hissy 8-tracks, guitar chords I’ve heard a thousand times, and multi-tracked soft-boy vocals always manage to weasel their way into whatever corner of my head houses nostalgia. Whenever I put on a 16 year old Conor Oberst, Roman Candle era Elliot Smith, or (to cite a recent obsession of mine) a Field Medic EP, I find myself on greyed out drives in upstate New York, or in an Austin, Texas song circle singing a Daniel Johnston song. Daniel God Damn Byrom’s “Funeral Song” has the same effect on me. It hops straight from my headphones into my subconscious, where Byrom’s remarkably vivid lyrics don’t so much take form as they do taste and touch.
There’s something incredibly delicate about writing songs to such simple music. It’s an embrace of limitation – with so little filling up the space, there’s nowhere to hide. Every line, every breath, every little squeak of finger on string has to stand up to a flashlight’s glare. My dad’s been enamored with Tom Waits’ “Picture in a Frame” lately, and while I doubt the song was any kind of direct inspiration for Byrom, it shares with “Funeral Song” a truly remarkable efficiency of space. I’m tempted to say that with so much stripped away, everything left is perfect, but perfect fails to capture the lovely, rough, textured edges of Byrom’s music.
I’m a great lover of lo-fi recording aesthetics, and while sometimes they give a track a kind of syrup, here they’re all crunch and crackle. The first half of the song is one hypnotic lick – a waltz back and forth between two warm chords – so when the song stumbles into a change around the halfway point, briefly dropping out of time, the listener is caught awkwardly half-way between steps. To cite another brilliant lo-fi folkster, it’s the effect captured so often and so well on Phil Elverum’s music as the Microphones. It gives the song a surprising jolt that, in its lyrical context, is deeply effective.
The song, like all of Live From Dead Tuesdays, Byrom’s EP released on March 12, exists in the same semi-fictional town as last year’s Live From Sad Claire’s Apartment. It’s a grim, lonely place, and Dead Tuesday’s is the rough and tough dive bar at its center. “Funeral Song,” marred by lonely longing, fits well in this setting – “I was in hell just thinking about you… this life gets real boring when you’re not around.” Yet, while the song is undeniably melancholic, it’s a wistful take on melancholy. The singer imagines jumping along to a skipping record, and meeting in heaven “with caviar for breakfast and angel fruit cake for dessert.” This kind of soft, silly sad cuts pretty deep.
The song’s refrain is as straight-up and stripped back as its instrumentation. Byrom sings “plans to leave but still staying. I cared enough to pretend that I was carin’ at all. You leave my bed, don’t go too far, or one of us will have to replace the other.” It’s easy to imagine the singer, crumpled over a guitar on Dead Tuesday’s stage, delivering such an apathetic take on romance. Yet, somehow, the listener can’t help but feel like the guy is honestly giving it his best shot. When Byrom’s favorite, fabulous J. Busilacchio reed organ enters for the last refrain, it feels like that just might be enough.