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When David Pajo began the Papa M project, back a few years ago with Live from a Shark Cage, the compositions bore a high resemblance to his work as Aerial M--dark, mud-ridden instrumentals with complex guitar playing over always interesting, molding background. Some of it was so primal, it harked back into the soul almost like folk music, but more like a prehistoric what-if-cavemen had guitars and banjos sort of thing.

But when in early 2001 our father M released Papa M Sings! where in fact, he did sing. And it sounded somewhat like Will Oldham. They're good friends and such so it wasn't suprising. And so, that album was good but needs its own node. I heard rumors early on that Drag City was gearing up to release a new Papa M album, and I was getting very excited. Would the first Papa M and the new Papa M be reconciled? What was to come next? Instrumental singing songs? What was it to be?

So along comes some month last year, and I am stoked: the Papa was to play at the Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco, and since I lived there and all at the time, I went. Hoping that he'd play some of that good ol' instrumental post-rock doo-dah like befo'. After Charles Atlas (which was very good!) got off the stage up they come. Him with two ladies, one playing bass solidly but singing badly and another on drums and poor melodica. David Pajo announces to the audience that the bass player's parents were there at the show that night. Then he made a sexual joke about them and proceeded to play his folky songs on electric guitar. I thought the songs were very good, but I couldn't really get into them much. It seemed to be missing texture. He played one song from Papa M Sings, Jaded Lover--which is a great song. But no instrumentals. I was saddened.

And so a few weeks pass and I step into Amoeba to buy Whatever, Mortal. Inside the art jacket of the album is a picture of a camel, chewing, staring into your eyes. The camel is saying: "Whatever, Mortal." Take that.


  1. over jordan
  2. beloved woman
  3. roses in snow
  4. sorrow reigns
  5. krusty
  6. the lass of roch royal
  7. many splendored thing
  8. glad you're here with me
  9. tamu
  10. sabotage
  11. purple eyelid
  12. the unquiet grave
  13. northwest passage

From immediacy, one can tell that this is going to be a somewhat more serious affair than one may suspect. Lightly strummed guitar and then "I am a whore," he sings, "wayfaring stranger / traveling through this town alone / there are no drugs no fear of danger / in that gold land that I call home." This is almost biblical. "I'm coming home to see my father / I'm coming home no more to grieve." He's coming home just over Jordan to never leave.

The songs here are intense, funny and original with a sound that could make a sworn vegan sit down around the fire for pork and beans. In "Sorrow Reigns" Pajo sings "There was something like a wall between us, that stopped you from going down on my penis" with the rhyme just perfect. At the concert mentioned before, he said this song was about a Mormon girl he once knew...

Sabotage is a killer, and all I will say is it has a sitar and can destroy your fucking soul.

There are still instrumental songs on here, and while at first Krusty did not appeal to me--it quickly grew. It sounds like something off the first Aerial M record. The real treat of the album though is the last song, Northwest Passage which already has a special meaning to me as I've just recently moved up to Portland, OR.

The guitar is deep, meaningful. Like the bass thundering in Along the Banks of Rivers from Tortoise's Millions Now Living Will Never Die, this song gets into the deepest gut on a high-level circuit of the collective unconscious. It's incredible. And I knew I knew the song from somewhere. And it hit me, the first/final song on Live from a Shark Cage, Arundel. While on that album it is dark, detuned guitar pickings and almost sinister, on Whatever, Mortal it is offered as a compassionate lumberjack's tune. It feels empowering. It's like smelling the finest coffee in the morning. It's like waking up and actually feeling alive for once. It's like watching the sunrise after an intense getting to know you-lets spend the rest of our life together kind of night.

And that's Whatever, Mortal to me.

Here's what it was to Drag City:

David Pajo: electric guitars, acoustic guitars, piano, melodica, bass, drums, keyboards, vocals, backing vocals, banjo, sitar, car keys, dog tags, harmonica, wood floor, percussion.
Will Oldham: bass, piano, electric guitar, backing vocals
Tara Jane O'Neil: banjo, acoustic guitar
Britt Walford: drums on "Beloved Woman"

Produced by no one in particular.

After sitting with this album for a few months now, I have to say it is top tier. Repeated listenings reveal much to offer. Enjoy at night on the porch with candles, a pipe, and a guitar in your hands--the rain pouring down, down, down and if you're afraid of the dark remember the night rainbow...

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