Six months after New Jersey folk collective River City Extension released their third studio album, Deliverance, they announced their Farewell Show. Now, less than a year later, songwriter and recent Philadelphia resident Joe Michelini is proud to announce his next project, American Trappist. With influences ranging from the haunting folk of Toronto’s Timber Timbre to the melancholy cinematic songwriting of Angel Olsen, Michelini delivers a “post-mortem exhale” of loss, longing, and existential reconciliation in three parts this summer.
The first part, entitled In Satan’s Kingdom National Park, was released via Michelini’s Philadelphia-based record label Death Salon on June 1 and was accompanied by a live performance at the Asbury Park Yacht Club in Asbury Park, NJ on June 1. This performance also marked the beginning of a summer-long residency at the intimate beachside venue.
Philadelphia residents had the opportunity to attend a second hometown release show on Saturday, June 4, at Ortlieb’s Lounge. Satan’s Kingdom features four new songs and deals with Michelini’s heightened sense of universal spirituality in contrast with his growing contempt for the church. “I don’t care about religion, do believe I am forgiven,” he sings on the album’s title track.
“American Trappist is less of a band and more of a songwriting project,” he says. “Lineups and arrangements will vary. It’s all about the recorded work, to which these live performances will be an accessory.”
Both follow-up companions, On The River Toms and Hannah Future Tense, will be available July 6 and August 3, respectively, via Death Salon.
Listening to Michelini has always been an adventure in learning. With influential styles that never stop on any immediately recognizable plateau, Joe brings a fresh perspective and compositional talent to everything he does.
I’ve written a few of my thoughts on this first of three releases below.
Starting things off is “Satan’s Kingdom.” Joe takes off with chugged guitar and effected vocal to get his wild point across. At 1:42 things go off the rails as Michelini and crew blow into free form sax-dominated cacophony. Drums, whistles and a myriad of additional instrumentation screams and caterwauls into a very somber handclap and chorus ending. The ending vocal chorus reminds me of watching a 1960s Vincent Price movie.
Up Next is “No Bibles.” This interesting piece begins with the psychedelic strains of pianos, percussion, and other oddities before moving into Michelini’s guitar chug and single note electric guitar bends. Michelini’s vocal tone on this project is decidedly darker than previous projects released by River City Extension. The chorus focuses with a bit of pleasant radio sound before he returns to the dark side. I love the electric guitar bends in the bridges and verses. At around 2:48 things heat up, and Michelini lays down some great steel guitar within the structure. Drums and bass tear through the mix as Joe puts his lyrical treatment over the top of this tasty treat. Bar chords and background vocals pull this tune into its inevitable ending with an almost Phil Spector “Wall of Noise” feel. Good stuff.
“Heaven” is up next and brings in a decidedly country twang that mixes with the echo-driven influences of Wall of Voodoo’s own Stan Ridgway. Joe starts things off with acoustic guitar and drums. Once again, the truck stop steel guitar bends play a significant part here as does the gritty, Telecaster guitar work of Michelini in most of the verses and bridges. With a decidedly ’80s feel mixed with avant-garde country punk, Michelini keeps a low, almost monotone vibe here. The chorus is catchy and should garner agreeable radio airplay. Michelini doesn’t cloud up his arrangements with over-the-top instrumentation, sticking with simple but effective choices that bring out the very soul of each song on this little disc.
The last song on this quick look into the Michelini mindset is called “The Devil Is Real.” Michelini uses synthesizer work to push this gem into the consciousness of his listeners. Riding in on a simple gnarly sound bite bump, Joe keeps things incredibly simple, adding keyboards at about 1:26 that fall in perfectly underneath his plaintive vocal. Around 2:23 drums and additional keys and the guitar comes into the mix. This is pure experimental goodness. Joe digs down deep on this tune, and it’s a winner. Drums are machine-like but dig a deep groove for him to do his alternative-styled thing. I love the analog delay wind at the end as Joe brings things to an exciting end.
I’ve always been a fan of Joe Michelini’s songwriting style, from the days before River City Extension right up until their very last album. His refusal to take the easy commercial way out leaves him with complete freedom to experiment and make music the way he sees fit, and In Satan’s Kingdom National Park is an excellent example of a songwriter looking to make new headway into the wild and wonderful world of music.
If you’re looking for something different than everything else you’re hearing on the radio these days and crave something with soul and musical perseverance, then you owe it to yourself to pick up this latest disc and give it a listen for yourself.
And speaking of that, you can get a chance to hear Joe and his handpicked crew over at The Asbury Park Yacht Club where American Trappist now has a residency. For more information on American Trappist and In Satan’s Kingdom National Park, head over to their Facebook page at facebook.com/americantrappist.