‘Pearls to Swine’, Adam Torres’ follow up to his 2015 cult album ‘Nostra Nova’, is, simply put, a beautiful album. Fingerpicking guitar gives it a lightness which imbues the whole album with a sort of luminescence, even on the tonally darker tracks. Soaring strings add elements of celestial brightness. Torres’ moody voice, which at various stages slides up and then down the vocal range, in turn contrasts and compliments the alternating light and dark tones.
Torres draws inspiration from a number of remarkable sources. ‘High Lonesome’, a meandering song peppered with the wash of symbols, draws immediate comparisons to Neil Young’s ‘Harvest’. Repetitive, warm drums and quavering strings align perfectly with Torres’ alto voice, so akin to Young’s. The song has the sound of romance woven through it, and balances against some of the darker songs on the album.
One of the darkest tracks on the album is ‘Daydream’, which employs the same kind of jarring opening as Johnny Flynn’s ‘Howl’, utilising a slightly tinnier guitar sound. Gone are the warm and inviting individual guitar notes swelling behind the strings. Instead, a metallic twang resonates across the vocals, making the song sound harder and harsher. The strings which Torres employs on every track switch from gentle to almost abrasive, working with the guitar to create a slightly unsettling feel.
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‘Where I’m Calling From’ is a stark and disarming track. Opening with the beguiling ripple of acoustic guitars, as Torres’ starts to sing his voice blends into the slow and inky sound. The union of Torres’ voice with the soaring, quavering strings is mesmerizing. On an album which alternates between light and dark from track to track, this song balances the two within itself. Torres sings of how ‘all my skin has turned to salt/ All my bones have turned to dust’, conjuring images of death and decay, before altering the line to say ‘now my skin has turned to gold/now my bones lift up the sun’, which draws to mind images of ascension, light and transformation. The theme of transformation is explored in one way or another numerous times on the album, and lends it elements of Southern Gothic which marry well with the melancholy and languid nature of the album.
On the other end of the spectrum are songs such as ‘Morning Rain’, which is immediately more upbeat. The use of strings is completely reversed, working with individually plucked guitar and light drums beats to lift the otherwise standard folk fare into a multi-layered jaunt. Perhaps it is the stark contrast between tracks on ‘Pearls to Swine’, but the tonal differences make this track more tender than some of its album mates.
Torres explores some strong emotions, and transformative themes of death and ascension. The album couples the themes and tropes of Southern Gothic with the otherworldly, astral sounds of Chamber Folk to create a dazzling fusion of light and dark, of swooping strings and murky drums. Torres’ beautifully warbling voice serves to draw all ends of the album together, making something which is truly a wonder to listen to.
‘Pearls to Swine’ is out on the 9th September, via Fat Possum
This Adam Torres article was written by Eleanor Kendrick-Jones, a GIGsoup contributor