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David E. Williams - Hospice Chorale

David E. Williams' last few albums seemed wrapped up in loss and grief and given the title of this - Hospice Chorale - I half expected this would continue the theme. It doesn't though, Hospice Chorale features a disparate collection of songs showcasing Williams' twisted view of life, dressed-up in Williams' classy piano arrangements. A singer-songwriter stretching the American songbook to its very extremes, Williams' possesses a bewildering imagination producing musical vignettes inhabited by an array of dubious characters involving junkie boyfriends, pederastic tourists, suicide seekers, office murderers, and a horse. He's a real one-off, and Hospice Chorale is another wonderful example of his singular worldview dolled up in classy musical arrangements.

Musically at times Hospice Chorale recalls some of his earlier work with stark piano settings. Other times it veers off into electronic sequences and at one point unleashes a rare slice of extreme electronics. Williams is joined on Hospice Chorale with a number of guest musicians including long-time collaborators Jerome Deppe and Jane Elizabeth along with Tony Cesa (Destroying Angel) as well as Bain Wolfkind, Albo Südekum (Apibus), and David Talento (Music for Isolation Tanks).

"I should have written more songs when I had the chance of life and love and true romance but it's time to write another song of the sort I've been singing all along". This is how David E. Williams opens Hospice Chorale and it recalls the stark piano arrangements of his earlier work. Classical influenced jaunty piano chords couch the words on eulogies, the bereaved and the bereft amidst passages of chamber chords and synthetic orchestral swells. "Sometimes I tire of being the one who doesn't die" he croons on the chorus (accompanied by Bain Wolfkind and Jane Elizabeth), which isn't surprising as his last two albums were infected with personal loss. But this isn't another grief confessional 'The One Who Doesn't Die' harbours his hatred with a twisted outlook. "Outlive your enemies, so you can shit on his coffin" he deadpans. 'The One Who Doesn't Die' certainly rates as one of his finest offbeat cabaret songs.

Panning atmospheric synths set the scene for 'War on Despair' a tragicomedy about a cripple, disabled as a result of being thrown down the stairs by his father. Williams voice is great here, transforming his cracked vocals into an effective delivery ruminating on a homeless girl and her soon to be murderous junkie boyfriend. Electronic beats and rhythms surface in its later moments something that features throughout Hospice Chorale and continue onto the perky keys and analogue electronic pulse of 'Someday I Will Live My Life as a Horse'. There's a childlike essence to this one, as he imagines a simple life as a horse, as a stone and just before you think David has become something of a fun guy he throws in the last verse imagining life as a corpse. Surely you didn't expect anything else? Later on 'Brazen, Ablaze' brings with it a dose of sprightly electro-pop, its bubbling electronics at odds with Williams' morose tones, as he sings "everything smells like soda, everything tastes like snot".

Hospice Chorale reprises 'Vinegar Stew' from the brilliant live in the studio Dave and Jerry (aka Jerome Deppe) album Almost Alive In Two Zero One Five which showcased songs from their back catalogue along with an interesting selection of cover versions. This new studio setting listing occupations ranging from doctor to lawyer to a murderer is set to an electro pulse and synth chords. Voices converge on the lines "Stewing in his vinegar like a big shit salad" which comes across as almost a chorus here. Imagine that on the menu of your local takeaway. Williams makes reference to springing a leak - and I've no idea if a leak means the same to Americans as it does to us over here in the UK, but it does stream neatly onto 'A Prostate in Autumn'. Here he sings of a weakened bladder on the lines "every time I piss myself, I feel that it's the last time". Set amidst glinting keys and an undulating fizzing wash, which just occurred to me might signify the hot piss rolling down our legs, a timely reminder of an affliction that I guess may affect all us males in our later middle age years.

I love the way David E. Williams tackles the big issues of the day with such deep insight as he does on 'Lillian Awoke'. I'm joking of course, as 'Lillian Awoke' deals with a washing line conundrum over stark stabbing piano chords, with Williams' voice surrounded by fuzzy strokes, wailing synth washes and background phone messages. 'BDA 30' lets loose with some punk guitars mixed with atmo-synths. Of course this is an updating of 'Bad Day Anyway' a track which originally appeared on Williams' debut EP and reappeared in semi-orchestral form on The Appeal Of Discarded Orthodoxy: A Tribute To David E. Williams. This time rendered in punk chords; it like the sexual episode it describes is fast, frenetic and funny.

Surprisingly for someone so renowned for their piano and keyboard arrangements Hospice Chorale ditches them for an altogether different musical approach on a number of the later tracks. Intricate guitar notes and tremeloed chords performed by Destroying Angel's Tony Cesa, couch Williams' voice on 'Thailand? (Why Can't All the World Be)'. A tasteless tale concerning Johnny whose "got a taste for chicken - and not the kind in coq au vin". You get that, don't you? Aside from 'Relapse' which featured English folk-singer Andrew King, I'm struggling to find a solo David E. Williams track that adopts a folk approach but 'The Coughalong Song' certainly falls into that category. It's a folk song of sorts, anyway. "Open up your heart ...your mouth up the clouds..." he rasps over looped violin (performed by Apibus' Albo Südekum) before it lurches into a folk chant. "Banish the weak, infertile and foolish" Jerome Deppe intones while Williams implores us to: "Listen to the cough". This one is a live favourite involving participation from the audience and the sleeve pinpoints those moments where you can join in at home with a coughalong. Like 'Quackadoodledoo', 'The Coughalong Song' rates as one of those odder oddball moments he occasionally throws in to catch you off-guard.

From abstract synth patterns 'Suicide Skyline (Method II)' settles into a piano score returning to more familiar David E. Williams territory and one of those gruesome vignettes he does so well. Picture it as another "bad day", for a city dweller who has just had enough, when the city just throws up feelings of hatred, despair and disgust. This one though picks up a recording of another crooner and it proves that even in bygone Hollywood days film stars had a mean streak as evidenced in a letter Bing Crosby voiced to his then 14 year old son Gary: "I'm not going to have you grow into a fat unattractive slob", he cruelly narrates dressed up as fatherly concern. It succumbs to silence and returns with Williams voicing repeated lines from Bing's festive staple. "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas" he sings over buzzing electro sequences, and tolling piano keys with a snippet of Rezso Seress' original take of 'Gloomy Sunday', that most popular of suicide songs.

David E. Williams usually include some musical interludes and instrumentals which allow him to showcase his musical prowess on the piano and keyboards, Hospice Chorale doesn't. Instead it features one of his rare noisier excursions. Noise and power electronics aren't musical forms normally associated with David E. Williams but his work is peppered with the occasional extreme electronic excursion. And I'm thinking here of '10048' from Hope Springs A Turtle. Let's not forget his work with Deathpile either. 'Catholic Nihilist' is just that though; textured noise atmospherics.

A sense of harshness and atmospherics fill 'Workplace Homicide'. Years back Williams scored the soundtrack to Norman Macera's The Strike Zone. And while this one doesn't draw on old Hollywood scores it does flit between classical piano and chiming bells that take on the feel of a John Carpenter horror score amidst passages of harsh bellows and brooding sombre chords where distorted vocals cry in unison "angel of death, an angel nonetheless".

No matter what you think of David E. Williams, he is a songwriter. His songs may stretch the boundaries of what is regarded as a typical theme but he is a songwriter nonetheless. Housed in a sleeve featuring Bill Rutherfoord's stunning oil painting 'Infirmary', Hospice Chorale offers up a disparate collection of songs. David E. Williams has been a long time favourite of compulsiononline and if you haven't experienced his work before then this is a great entry point but if you have then let's say David E. Williams has moved on from his grief confessionals but his appetite for a sick, twisted and warped lyric wrapped up in glorious arrangements remains. For more information go to Old Europa Cafe