American songwriter Thomas Jefferson Cowgill is one of those artists who likes to range between extremely different forms of expression. In his brilliant musical career he now operates under the pseudonym of King Dude and with such new artistic identity he has already released a good number of excellent pubications. As a matter of fact, listening to King Dude’s discography one may think that’s it is practically impossible for him to publish low quality works and his latest record, Music to Make War To totally confirms this trajectory.
Having changed over the years many elements of his style, the description of King Dude’s music can only be made derivatively. The last album, in this sense, could be described as a nice mixture of The National and Nick Cave, in which however the melodic elements of the songs always prevail over the more introspective aspect of the music. The result is a truly exciting collection of haunting but still extremely enjoyable songs. The album is plenty of that melancholy tone which has become one of the most recognizable elements of King Dude’s music (what’s sometimes referred to as “dark folk” or “goth folk”) but melancholy is partially alleviated through a lightness of approach and a musical simplicity which become sometimes totally disarming.
Many could argue that it’s just an attempt to conquer a wider audience with a simpler and lighter music. Whatever the reason behind Cowgill’s last evolution of his style, I find this operation absolutely successful. Undoubtedly King Dude’s figure seems today less “Luciferian” than in previous years, but every now and then it’s healthy and beneficial to refresh your own style rather than insist on an image of yourself that, in the long run, could dry away all the brilliance and inspiration that’s in your music.
Music To Make War To alternates relatively fast paced songs (Velvet Rope, I Don’t Write Love Songs Anymore, and Dead on the Chorus) and other tracks that result much slower and atmospheric, such as the beautiful and haunting Twin Brother of Jesus, which sees our artist reaching extremely high peaks of expressive intensity.
The singing performance is really amazing. We move from moments where Cowgill looks as the reincarnation of Type of Negative’s Peter Steel, with his dark and full timbre, to other sections of the album where his style is more reminiscent of other legends of folk and American tradition as Nick Cave and Johhny Cash. In both cases, however, King Dude showcases a capacity for interpretation that is equal only to his skills as composer and songwriter. The instrumentation and the arrangements also range fluidly from acoustic and minimal moments to others sections where the music is enriched with electronic and synthetic inserts.
In summary: arrived to the seventh record of his great discography, King Dude has succeded in the apparent impossible operation to make catchy and somehow “radio friendly” songs which still convey the emotional intensity and – to same extent – the darkness that we appreciated in his previous and less accessible works. Will this be the point of arrival of King Dude’s stylistic evolution? I believe not. Presumably, as soon as we’ll hear his future songs, we will discover that Music to Make War To has represented only one of the many chapters of a musical journey that has still a lot to say.