Review: Jeremiah Nelson – Drugs to Make You Sober (2011)

The harsh winter can do a number on brittle bones. Autumn’s visual warmth is long gone save the stalwart conifers, leaving fireplaces and holidays to look forward to. Ironically winter’s the season of comfort, where nostalgia and friends circle the wagons around one another in order to see the next turn of the weather. Caffeine addicts like I will long dread the day pumpkin spice goes away, yet thankfully there’s a supplement to get you through the upcoming months. Drugs.

Jeremiah Nelson is a Madison, Wisconsin musician who originates from Rochester, Minnesota. With a background in recording, he moved to the capitol to perform with his previous group Jeremiah Nelson and the Achilles Heel. The group dissolved and 2010-2011 has since become the years Jeremiah’s calling found him. Restless, optimistic and with a fresh taste for the road, 2012 is all the more promising as his 2011 Drugs to Make You Sober is put aside to move forward and put those recording studies in Oshkosh to work.

As mentioned, nostalgia kicks in. Drugs to Make You Sober was and, as the mercury takes the Midwestern roller coaster ride, still is the album for surviving winter in face of Canadian clippers. Jeremiah Nelson’s songs drift with an self-reflective introspection that is consistently accompanied by a brightness undiluted by gray skies. “Nothin to Lose”, “Floodplain”, “Show to Show” and even “End of the Road”. The first track, “Nothin to Lose”, walks with wistful newfound confidence in new beginnings over reverb. The guitars strike a balance between alt-country and rock riffs, particularly the second half when Jeremiah’s wandering strums lead you along, pausing, starting, pausing until they seemingly leave him to move off into riffs over a subtle piano before coalescing. This construction/deconstruction of music with music adventurism itself sets Drugs to Make You Sober apart.

The journey is primarily a solitary one; a seeming necessity in order to be a singer/songwriter. Drugs to Make You Sober does not drown in that solitude, but has come to terms and is comfortable living with it. “Snow in the air and some on the ground. I’m gonna find me summer and gonna follow it south. Cause it’s crystal blue as far as I can feel, and on my fingertips on a freezing steering wheel.” Clanking, rail-esque drum taps open up the journeyman “Skin to Touch” with a whistling harmonica before those lyrics open the first verse. The song is the most liberating, far flung from the stereotypical woe-begotten songs of the season-a summer hit displaced into winter’s flurries.

Jeremiah is joined by Milwaukee sensation Heidi Spencer (recent opener for Iron & Wine) on “Show to Show”. The male/female vocal duo freshens the rather short, eight-song album. Breathing a bit of life through her delicate and quivering voice over the two matching and departing acoustic guitars after “Good as Gone”, over a tempered drum machine. The beat doesn’t sound gimmicky, in fact it blends in perfectly that you won’t notice it at first. It’s this little attention to experimenting that distinguishes Jeremiah Nelson, which can be heard on the reverb, muted recording of “End of the Road”.

Where the trek takes Jeremiah Nelson next is yet to be recorded, but hints point to “Soundscape 082610” to find a rough map of where the trail is going. It is just that-a soundscape in electronic and guitar droplets that betray the fifteen minute length through hypnotism. While it may turn off some listeners, it’s a tremendous conclusion as-more often than not-it stays on as the soundscape takes artist’s experiments in self-introspection and ends up unconsciously leading the listener to take up that role. Soothing, the waves float over with only a slight disruption nine minutes in. It’s winter stillness in music.

With the days growing shorter and the trees shedding their summer clothing for hibernation, Drugs to Make You Sober may become a constant in winter’s repertoires to come.

(Wisconsin Public Television featured Jeremiah in their 30-Minute Music Hour. You can catch the performance here.)

Jeremiah Nelson
Official | Bandcamp

Rating: 8.8/10

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