Sometimes lyrics seem just thrown together, and for some bands, louder bands, you can see why –– on disc or in person, their words tend to get buried beneath avalanches of furious guitars, basses, and drums. Only the melodies escape. But for listening music, deep listening music, lyrics are at least as vital as the instruments.
One of the best lyricists in Fort Worth is thirtysomething singer-songwriter Clint Niosi, who has just released a new album, the follow-up to his 2009 debut, The Sound of Dead Horses Beaten Against Cold Shoulders. A dark, folk-based but often maximalist gem, For Pleasure and Spite demands –– and rewards –– close listening. Niosi’s words sometimes verge on poetry, as strong alone on the page as when performed with inflections and music added. But most of the time his lyrics –– about love, the world, and the Great Hereafter –– play off or skillfully illuminate their instrumental shells. The interplay between the words and music in the middle of “Shark in Your Water” is nearly operatic. In a quivering but masculine voice, Niosi sings, “At your / Request my / Sinking / Teeth / In un- / -derbelly revealed / To me,” strings yawning and undulating dramatically alongside him.
Some of the credit for the delicious sonics has to go to James Talambas, founder and owner of New Media Recordings, the relatively new Near Southside studio/label where Niosi recorded the album. Talambas, a founding member of the legendary Fort Worth psychedelic-folk band The Theater Fire, co-produced the album with Niosi and helped arrange the songs. Instrumental contributions came from some of finest talent in North Texas, including violinist Tamara Cauble-Brown (Telegraph Canyon, The Polyphonic Spree), drummer Boyd Dixon (Tame … Tame and Quiet, The Demigs), and saxophonist Jeff Dazey (Josh Weathers & The True+Endeavors, EPIC RUINS, Gunga Galunga).
“A lot of [the arranging] was probably born out of so much of the writing going on in the studio,” Niosi said. “We tried to do what the song called for.”
Some songs required small treatments, he said. Other tracks –– “Anxiously Awaiting the End,” “Apparition,” “Be Forewarned” –– called for “something grandiose,” he said.
Cold Shoulders, he said, was a byproduct of “the stage.” For Pleasure and Spite, on the other hand, came from the studio.
Niosi started recording in 2009. Why the long time between start and finish? Niosi lost his mother and ended a four-year relationship, “a mixed blessing,” he said. “You try to take the bad things and make something beautiful out of them,” he continued. “It was a period of reassessment. I was reassessing all the songs I was writing. When we came back to them, everything maybe felt like it wasn’t quite dark enough to reflect my mood, so all of that kind of came out in the album.”
Niosi also began collaborating with Hip Pocket Theatre. He starred in On the Origins of the Specifics and with Fort Worth guitar virtuoso Darrin Kobetich sat in the pit every weekend for about a month to score The Butterfly’s Evil Spell. “I think [the theater work] helped me approach writing in a different way,” Niosi said, “and approach my voice in a different way, kind of thinking in terms of character, singing the song, the range of expression in my voice.”
Indeed, Niosi’s vocal work on For Pleasure and Spite is novel and might shock listeners who think of him only as that skinny, soft-spoken hipster in the corner petting his acoustic guitar. By the end of “Be Forewarned,” he’s screaming ecstatically/angrily like Jim Morrison, and “Apparition” is a sort of spoken-word poem, about a haunting dream: “But your eyes were closed, the blue of the flood-swollen pond captured the rotten pools in your bloated face, just so.”
“While I’ve Got You on the Line” is another spoken-word goody but more powerful. Over a few simple, strummed acoustic chords, Niosi, his voice delicate yet razor-sharp, sings, “You can fuck yourself / Who am I to stop you? / You could love yourself / But I could never make you.” The song eventually dissolves into brass and strings swirling out of control.
The most theatrical song on the album is “Anxiously Awaiting the End,” its third act blooming into a gorgeous, sumptuous mini-symphony for strings and horns, galloping Copland-style, with Niosi booming as best his wavering voice allows, “I’m the salty pillar forever looking back / Mine eyes fixed upon an imminent collapse / Who dares separate the wheat from the chaff? / Who dares claim the metaphysical last laugh?”
Since the album’s early-August release, Niosi has performed a couple of local shows, with Talambas on bass and Claire Hecko on violin, but he’s working on building a full band for the stage. His next recording project is scoring Her Wilderness, “an art-house film,” Niosi said, by outstanding Fort Worth auteur Frank Mosley. This weekend, Niosi and Hecko are headed to Los Angeles to play a show, “what’s left of a West Coast tour, which will be rescheduled,” he said. At the end of the month, Niosi will play three North Texas shows, two in the Fort.
For Pleasure and Spite is available at Doc’s Records & Vintage. You can stream the album for free at clintniosi.bandcamp.com, and for an interview with Niosi, listen to Track by Track with Paul Slavens, a monthly podcast by the host of The Paul Slavens Show (8-11pm Sundays on KXT/91.7-FM). Listen closely.
Thu, Sep 27, at The Common Table, 2917 Fairmount, Dallas. 214-880-7414. • Fri, Sep 28, at Zio Carlo Magnolia Brew Pub, 1001 W Magnolia Av, FW. 817-923-8000. • Sun, Sep 30, Arts Fifth Avenue, 1628 5th Av, FW. 817-923-9500.