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David E. Williams - Trust No Scaffold Built of This Bone

Trust No Scaffold coverDavid E. Williams' last album, Every Missing Duck Is A Duck Missed, focussed on the tragic passing of his partner Jennifer Bates. It revelled in the blackest of black humour, which was unflinchingly close to the bone. As he turned inwards, the resulting album was like eavesdropping on someone's grief. On the surface, his latest album seems to move to a more abstract positioning. As someone often cited as an outsider artist, this one does feature some nonsensical moments - and with songtitles like 'Quackadoodledoo' and 'Dodecaphonybaloney' you can almost see their point. I don't though. Trust No Scaffold Built of This Bone continues his fascination in seeking out the strange in normal mundane settings. On Trust No Scaffold Built of This Bone his croaked drawled vocals and musical dexterity on the keyboards remain, but, this time, it's not all piano based. There are electro-pop tracks, guitar based songs and even one polka styled song. On Trust No Scaffold... Williams is assisted by some of the musicians from Every Missing Duck... and his brief Ensemble Experience Project as well as his longtime friend and collaborator Jerome Deppe. This time, though, he even allows others to take the lead vocal role. Even by Williams' past standards where songs were characterised by a long list of dubious characters such as serial killers, paedophiles... and the like, on the face of it, Trust No Scaffold... seems much more whimsical and lightweight. There's a dog on the cover and the lyrics, this time, are populated by ducks, chickens, sparrows... it's almost a musical menagerie. But listen closely and it appears that David E. Williams hasn't moved on too far from the grief that informed Every Missing Duck Is A Duck Missed - you just have to listen more closely. But that's not too obvious from the opening track, 'The Official Picnic Song', where amidst seemingly innocuous throwaway words about strawberries and chickens he casts off the telling line "Is your quality of life sufficient, for the treatment to continue?". And that's almost a clue for what follows.

But that's only part of the story as 'Dashing Habber' knocks off a lyric about baldness and assholes amidst stuttering synth patterns and electro beats, before sloping into the first of many searing guitar leads, performed by Williams on his Korg Triton. The resulting effect may be of typical David E Williams stuff. That's almost true of 'Heat's Down The Seeking Missile' too, as who else can pull off a song about explosives and chemical weapons over a jaunty piano score.

Williams is, of course, adept at the sad ballad, and this time he bring us 'A Patch of Fog In Purgatory'. Draping his morose drawled tones accompanied at points by Jane Elizabeth (of Tesco USA), over melodic keyboards, where they contrast words playfully, before Williams sets off showcasing his proficiency on the keyboards. I've no idea what it's about but it sounds sad anyway. The keyboards are dropped and replaced by an ensemble piece, including a string quintet and clarinet, on the following 'What's Your Scene, Jellybean?' where Williams and Jane Elizabeth joyously entwine on a Satanically inclined lyric, which is one part nursery rhyme and one part Rosemary's Baby. The twin voices of Williams and Elizabeth unite again on 'Peanuts, Candy, a Dog and a Bird' with its highly polished eighties electro production. This one is poppy and catchy as their voices reflect the title in the lines "salty and sweet, a bark and a tweet" before it slides into another soaring synthesizer produced guitar solo.

Aside from the duets with Jane Elizabeth, Williams takes a backseat on a couple of other tracks, allowing his UK based friends to take centre spot. Lloyd James (of Naevus) lends his slow, poised tones to 'Closet', recounting some dull household affairs over piano notes and sombre violin, with a brief passage enlightened by fairground organ. The traditional folk vocal of Andrew King features on 'Relapse' along with his customary harmonium drone. For a while it sounds like standard Andrew King fare, until the scorching guitar and percussive arrangements, performed by Jerome Deppe, emerge to take this in a new direction.

I must admit Williams got me scratching my head on a couple of tracks. On the slow pulsating electro of 'Quackadoodledoo' where Williams' delivers a dramatic lead vocal about chickens, ducks and death, to the background accompaniment of "Quackadoodledoo", is puzzling to say the least. 'Dodecaphonybaloney' is even more bizarre, with its pounding bass and cinematic keyboards sounding like a warped scene from a psychedelic horror b-movie. I've no idea what it's about either; this is David E Williams at his most obtuse.

It may appear to be business as usual on 'The Emperor of Ice Cream', with its piano and violin score exuding a feeling of melancholy and sadness. Given Williams' predisposition to characters of questionable nature a song based on an Emperor of Ice Cream might seem tolerable by Williams' past standards. But this track features a musical setting of a poem by Wallace Stevens, which in its two verses veers between pleasure and grief. And grief is something Williams knows much about. It's worth noting at this point that the earlier mentioned 'Relapse' is of a poem by C.S. Lewis which focuses on death - and briefly touches upon cancer.

And it's that focus on death that is worth keeping that in mind when we get to the last track. But before that we have 'Meine Schwester, Die Krankenschwester' which brings together the animal theme with hospitals, in a lyric sung in German over a polka dance rhythm, interspersed with a spot of tap dancing. Beat that! The final piece, 'Turn Off All the Very Hot Things', is another one caught up in the mundane domesticity of life highlighting the dangers of household appliances, while Williams, waits patiently for snow or something. A gloomy atmospheric score underpins this, as it extends out into something different with an emotive speech culled from the objectionable Richard Nixon, resigning his post as President, ruminating on loss, citing some words from former President Theodore Roosevelt on the death of his young first wife. And as Nixon recalls the words of Roosevelt - "And when my heart's dearest died, the light went from my life forever" - you can almost transpose those heart wrenching words to Williams, which Nixon poignantly expands upon in the lines "but the greatness comes when you are really tested, when you take some knocks, some disappointments, when sadness comes, because only if you've been in the deepest valley can you ever know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain."

So despite its moments of whimsy, it seems Williams, not unnaturally, is still caught up in coming to terms with death. While Trust No Scaffold Built of This Bone doesn't rely on the trusty confessional, and even though it doesn't hit the heights or even depths of his previous releases it remains a further instalment in the David E. Williams oeuvre, and for that I'm grateful. He remains a dark troubadour but on Trust No Scaffold Built of This Bone he shows at least he is operating a few shades lighter. For more information go to