Micah P Hinson has spent his career making a name for himself as the grimmest door-to-door salesman of the modern American gothic aesthetic. His fourth album, the double LP …And The Pioneer Saboteurs, is a solid case for Hinson’s role as America’s new downtrodden troubadour, a wandering fish-eyed lens for all that is unsavoury and bleak about his Western landscape, from Abilene to the dusty expanses of small-town shame under big, oily skies.
Musically, Hinson fits the alt-country niche as uncomfortably as Wilco, but it’s a close fit, if a bit tight across the shoulders. Hinson’s music casts its heavy shadow on a wide vista of musical territory, channelling a cacophony of squalling guitar feedback and lush orchestrations to lend his heavy subject matter an alternating sense of near-whimsy and atonal catastrophe and claustrophobia.
The album’s bookend instrumentals, A Call To Arms and The Returning, lend this work a sense of grand, theatrical scale. While the opener is all lush frontier strings, well suited for panning across John Ford landscapes, the closer (a waltz to take us box-stepping drunkenly home) is preceded by nearly eight minutes of electric guitar feedback and white noise.
“Sweetness, take off that dress for me,” invites Hinson on Sweetness, “Against all hope and sense of dignity.” Seedy and often appalling imagery populates …And The Pioneer Saboteurs like cockroaches in the walls of a fallen-down and forgotten Texas homestead. Hinson sings of suicidal preachers, spurned lovers, and “ropes made for limbs” with an easy baritone that’s grown cracked and old before its time, and often sounds sung into a tin can, a bit like M Ward‘s.
“God damn myself for making it all up,” Hinson sings on 2s And 3s. But he sings it with such earnestness that it’s easy to believe the yarns he spins, stretched out as they are toward the spittoon. “O, Lord, I don’t know what you’re saying to me,” he laments. Hinson would be the cowboy in the black hat, the wanderer, the stranger who changes the town’s name from Lago to Hell, and insists on having all the buildings painted red.
Perhaps most striking about …And The Pioneer Saboteurs is its singularity of vision, bleak as it is. Throughout the album, Hinson is a lyrical Cormac McCarthy, painting with a muted palette scratched by a thin wire brush. But the juxtaposition of form and function often causes chilling results. Most notably, the string section from A Call To Arms is recycled to breathtaking effect on the album’s centerpiece, Dear Ashley.
When the bad guys call the shots and the frontier is tied down with fences and interstate highways, when the next environmental disaster casts its shadow on the batwing doors, it seems cock-eyed and foolish to sing of America as anything but a wasteland of degenerates and criminals. Micah P Hinson is a natural byproduct of his time and place, but he’s also an artist with a steady hand and an unflinching eye for the gruesome details.