With his latest CD, No Earthly Man, Scotland's Alasdair Roberts (no relation to either me or Julia) has accomplished the seemingly impossible: He's made the most depressing album in the history of recorded music. No joke. Compared to this collection of death ballads from the British isles, Beck's Sea Change, which focuses obsessively on a shattered relationship, is sunny and uplifting, and Lou Reed's Magic and Loss, a concept album about cancer, sounds like something by the 1910 Fruitgum Company. For proof, check out "The Two Brothers," a mournful dirge about fratricide in which Roberts gently keens lines such as "He did bind his deadly wounds/But they bled ten times more." Yet against all odds, the album eventually attains a strange majesty, if only because of the relentless way Roberts burrows into the timeless misery of humankind, creating and sustaining a mood so tenebrous that it would cause all but the most devoted goths to permanently swear off black lipstick. One piece of unsolicited advice for those attending his local appearance, which teams him with David Eugene Edwards, another performer prone to darkness: Drink heavily.
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