Jesse Lortz is trying to get himself moving again if he can help it. Back when he was The Duke in the ambulatory Seattle folk duo The Dutchess and the Duke, his melancholy was spun into campfire punk songs that celebrated, even exalted, sadness. It was when he started his solo project Case Studies that his woodsy songs traveled into a nameless room in a nameless city and turned inward on his debut album This World Is Just a Shape to Fill the Night. The title alone should key you in to the kind of “aw buddy, come on” response the maudlin dirges often warranted.
But Lortz is really, really trying to peel himself off his bed on his sophomore album This Is Another Life, an album title that could again double as his personal mantra. Near the end of Side A, after some baritone moaning above a barely-tuned piano, drunken drums, and the saddest acoustic guitar ever sold, you realize Lortz might be moving on — or at least moving on down the road. It’s a road that’s been traveled by folksters before, where Dylan got tangled up in blue and where Bill Callahan rode for the feeling. Marissa Nadler guests on the track “Villain” and implores him to just stay outside, to get out of that awful room where his thoughts keep folding in on themselves.
He’s even got a steering wheel-tapper in “Driving East and Through Her”, a bridgeless folk-blues that owes as much to Dylan’s wanderlust as it does to CCR’s. “House of Silk, House of Sorrow”, Lortz’s biggest backslide into inert helplessness, is his very own “Ballad of a Thin Man”. These homages to the unfettered folk of the ‘60s and ‘70s compliment his modern-day contemporaries like Kurt Vile or Torres. There’s no swaths of anything here, just thin strips of sound seemingly ripped right from Lortz’s flesh.
As Case Studies, Lortz writes his love letters in wry, hyperbolical ballads, a Dylan acolyte if ever there was one. Three six-minute songs prop up the album, each filled with protracted verses ranging from the macabre hypotheticals on “The Beast I Have Yet To Find” to one of the kindest love songs written in years on “You Say To Me, You Never Have To Ask”. Both songs play out like dreams where love is absolute and never difficult to parse, an ideal place for someone who’s just looking for simple “yes” or “no” answers. But back in reality, back on the road, Lortz is still trying to find something tangible wherever he can. As he sings on the title track: “I’ve changed my name, number, and address/ but I haven’t gone too far/ you can find me if you want/ I guess.” Beyond all the heartbreak, Lortz has penned a beautiful record of someone taking those first few difficult steps.
Essential Tracks: “Driving East and Through Her”, “Villain”, and ”You Say To Me, You Never Have To Ask”