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David E. Williams - Get Me A Ladder... Get Me A Ladder!

David E. Williams Get Me A Ladder coverHow many albums opens with an insurance claims investigator opining on suicide? That's what Get Me A Ladder... does on 'The Well-Tempered Actuary' where over sombre synths a sped-up sample from Billy Wilder's classic film noir Double Indemnity details various form of suicide and the statistical probability of dying by leaping off a slow moving train. From there, it moves into the sparky rhythmic fizz of the electro-pop and synth chime of the title track highlighting the dangers of changing a lightbulb. Welcome to the world of David E. Williams, Philadelphia's finest musical troubadour and one whose music crosses genres slipping from goth flecked post-punk, orchestrated electronics to showtunes and abrasive industrial electronics and who can lyrically turn his hand from the serious to the absurd at the, uh, flick of a switch.

We've been writing about David E. Williams for years, decades even. Get Me A Ladder... is his ninth studio album, and it sees him reunite with a number of guests including UK friends Lloyd James, Andrew King, and US noise artist Jonathan Canady (Deathpile) and Erin Martz who provides some of the inventive guitar work on this. Touchingly, there's also an appearance from his late, longtime collaborator Jerome Deppe. Otherwise it's business unusual.

That's especially true of some songs. Snagging the rhythmic jolting zaps and tones of The Normal's 'Warm Leatherette' to the synth driven, 'Girl, Go Forth!' where in deadpan tones Williams relates a scene about clearing earwax and then contemplates female liberation. Maybe. 'A Seed is Scurrilous' is more curious. I've no idea what it's about but over the patter of chiming synths it does feature the lines "Turn your back on sodomy, and turn your front to me". The avengement of the not so-well is covered in 'We The Ill Are Not So Well' a short sombre piano ballad, swelling into orchestrations and moments of electro chime showing his musical dexterity. Oh, and a reprise of "I am pissing out my urethral scabs". Both 'Plane Crash People' and 'Gangrenous Nebula' deal with bodies and food. The former is about dying in a plane crash, while cut with zoning effects, the melodic piano ballad of 'Gangrenous Nebula', concerns the horrors of the body. Is it profound or meaningless? Who knows but just as you begin to contemplate its meaning, along comes 'The Man Who Invented Ketchup', a playful piece of singalong indie-pop, rendered in cheery synths, twee guitar and backed by Jane Elizabeth's soft harmonies revealing the real history behind the discovery of ketchup. Possibly! I haven't even mentioned 'Body Parts in Birdbaths', a wonderful singalong pop oddity. A synth pop song about a severed torso - "Torso slices, fingers, toes, moderate interest from the crows, but a red red robin doesn't know an acorn from a severed nose" - sung by frequent collaborator Lloyd James who, himself, as part of Naevus is more than familiar with singing about bodies and meat.

His work often dips into America's past lifting words or providing snapshots of cultural figures such as Bing Crosby, President Nixon, Lou Gehrig and Bob Crane. This time it's William Frawley, the actor from American sitcom I Love Lucy. Williams is in great form here referencing episodes of the late actor's life over a dazzling showtune accentuated by dramatic strings with passages of booming piano. 'Hats Off To William Frawley' indeed; this is brilliant.

I must confess as a fellow widower I always look out for his grief confessionals. Maybe it's weird but there's something about hearing about someone else's loss that I particularly enjoy. Probably something to with a shared experience or a moment of reflection to wallow in. Who knows but while 'Eucharist v. Leukemia' isn't really one of those it does tackle difficult personal themes. In parping keys Williams delivers a particularly emotive vocal expressed plainly and sometimes almost unadorned and naked as it moves from tinkling piano notes, swathed in orchestral stylings and into a passage furnished with chiming bells, before a rumble of drums opens into ascending synths and a climax of repeated wordless la's. Really, there's nothing left to be said as the sense of loss is unmissable. If this was pitched umpteen octaves higher and performed by Sparks people would literally be in tears. I am, anyway.

Set to repeated synthetic strings overlaid by waves of icy goth tinged guitars, 'Testosterone as Poison?' captures Williams at his harshest, his voice rising to a rasping croak, as it slides out into an extended end section where Jonathan Canady unleashes noise tones and frequencies over Erin Martz's abrasive guitar mannerisms. Even though he's far from being a noise artist many of his albums have been peppered with these noise excursions and this is the first of a few tracks incorporating industrial electronics. The wordless 'Throat Wound' is more unsettling and disturbing, setting laboured breathing amongst an atmospheric noise styling of processed guitar and droning synths. Industrial atmospherics continue onto 'This Is My Play's Last Scene' where David E. Williams almost appears absent. A musical setting of the John Donne poem with Andrew King, the English folk singer, making a now rare appearance inhabiting the persona of the poet enunciating his death-bed words, reflecting on a sinful life awaiting his God given fate, amidst ratchety electronics and sampled strummed guitar. A moving atmospheric folk piece given heightened poignancy since those guitar parts were originally performed by Williams' late and much missed musical partner Jerome Deppe.

Over the sustained synth of the final track, 'Things', Williams succinctly captures the complexity of life's ups and downs stretching from bad bed hygiene to moments of joy marred by periods of sorrow. In fact, all facets of life - and death too - can be found within his songs. Just this album documents birds eating body parts, the dangers of changing lightbulbs, the discovery of a cupboard staple condiment, cancer and scabby cocks. It's a joyous, tragic, humorous and at times unsettling and set to a soundtrack of catchy synth and indie-pop, showtunes and industrial electronics. I've loved his work for years, and some 20 plus years he still entertains, amuses, discomforts and enlightens me. David E. Williams remains the songwriter that reaches the parts no other songwriter can reach. Highest recommendation from us, as always. US readers should go to David E. Williams bandcamp while European readers can order from Old Europa Cafe