I'll be honest - I nearly made the mistake of judging this by what it said on the tin. On receiving a copy of the release from the Kythibong label, I thoroughly expected this to be some full-on rap album and my only hope was that it would be among the very small proportion of such releases that turned out to be any good.
I suppose I ought to have noticed the tell-tale clue: 'motherfuckers' spelt correctly rather than idiomatically. Not only does the album turn out to be a million miles stylistically from rap, it also - thankfully - turns out to be something very much of its own.
I've learned since that The Healthy Boy is in fact Benjamin Nerot, from France, and he's been doing this kind of thing for a while. Once I've finished with this mesmerising, understated masterpiece, I'll check the rest of it out, but that might not be for some time.
The growling guitar-based ballads could go the whole way and imitate some of Nick Cave's more intense moments, but they don't. Instead, it comes out more like Tindersticks stripped down and bare, with everything else that goes into making them Tindersticks lobotomised and infused with menace until what you're left with are gorgeous, spare guitar lines overlaid with vocals that take something from Tom Waits but give much more back.
As you can tell, I'm struggling with the comparisons. And that's the best thing about this release. Whatever influences you might detect rumbling below the surface, they stay beneath the surface and what you get is something that resists easy categorisation, which is exactly as it should be.
I find the album's best played late at night, in the dark, straight whiskey in the hand; in such a setting I can absord myself in its sparse, brooding brilliance and start to get a sense of what's going on in those lyrics. so elusively enunciated it's like grasping at whispers in dreams that frequently subside and change into something else before you've had a chance to grasp them fully: on 'Boneman', you're transported to some troubled, insane scientist's lair, your brain ripped out and replaced for some foul experimental purposes; 'Triumphs and Victories' lays a glorious, expansive sound across its initially bare landscape; the album's longest song 'Portrait' comes off like Charles Aznavour singing while caught grimly by the bollocks in some dim cell.
It's the album's opener 'Our Story's Grave' I've chosen to broadcast in my March Dandelion Radio show (streaming, as usual, on most days and at various times during the month) because something about it encapsulates the appeal of the album as a whole, the lilting, evocative strings at the beginning leading into the growling vocals that tell of loss and life and insanity, the music building, subsiding and lifting again like the backdrop to some unspeakable human act, crying out unheard in some wilderness, perhaps never to be touched by another human soul.
As you can tell, I love it. Get it here. Whiskey and dark room optional but highly recommended.