Garage-country. Dig that. It evokes the sinew of Iggy Pop rippling beneath the resignation of Hank Williams. It’s has to sound like werewolves in a hen house, right? It’s not a new concept, certainly. What is rock n’ roll if not the crunchy burnt ends of some pot-luck, hillbilly tire-fire bbq? And where would the United Straits of Americana be without the right-ragged madness of Uncle Tupelo? That outfit owed as much to Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, and Tommy as it did to Sara and Maybelle. Consider the gorgeous noise of broken pawn shop amplifiers, the texture of strained vocals reaching then grasping that perfect raw note. If Loretta Lynn had gotten mixed up with the Sonics (close your eyes, cousin, and marinate on that)– what would we make of Hayley Thompson-King?
Hayley was raised on horseback in Sebastian, Florida. Her father was a roper and trained cutting horses. Dually trucks haulin’ horses and country music– that’s the land Hayley comes from, but sip on this a minute: Hayley Thompson-King has a Master’s degree in Opera. You will not, however, immediately discern a Habanera influence on Hayley’s debut album, Psyschotic Melancholia. It’s only when the punch of the opening rocker, “Large Hall, Slow Decay”, belts you in the ear bones with such fierce control that you might notice the formal training. Mixed-martial arts in rock n’ roll form. “Dopesick”, more inspired by Maria Mckee than Birgit Nilsson, is propelled deeper into the stained hollows of the garage by greasy, howlin’, squallin’ guitars that spread like an infection around the visceral lyrics.
Psychotic Melancholia brings the fuzz and motion back with “No Room For Jesus”, and then “Soul Kisser” places the full spectrum of Hayley’s ability on display– control, power, range. The track would’ve sounded right at home in Warhol’s factory– clean, ringing tones and ambient harmonies over low and slow, driving back beats. “Lot’s Wife” hails straight from those cinderblock walls of early 1960’s Pacific Northwest rock n’ roll. And then there’s “Melencolia I” and “Teratoma”– two cuts reminiscent of Liz Phair and Mazzy Star– but while the former holds on to the gritty sesnuality of Phair’s early recordings, the latter takes the innocent sweetness of Hope Sandoval and thickens it to salty caramel.
The final two tracks of Psychotic Melancholia are the strangest– but you’re prepared for that. Sort of… “Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle to You” was a #1 hit for Dolly Parton in 1980. The queen of the Smoky Mountains also recently recorded the song as a duet with Ke$sha. Yep, you read that right. “Old Flames” was written by Ke$ha’s mother, Pebe Sebert, and her then-husband Hugh Moffatt. If the majority of the album puts the commentator in mind to imagine an alternate reality where Tammy Wynnette made a Bowery punk record or Lou Reed fronted Son Volt, then the “Old Flames” cut sees that alt-universe pairing Dolly with Gram Parsons in the south of France with Keith Richards. Perhaps, Hayley chose to close out the album with Schumann’s “Wehmut” as a warning. The piece, inspired by and taken from German poet Eichendorff, might even be a joke at the listener’s expense. “Wehmut” was conceived as a simple arrangement of voice and piano. Hayley reduces it further by replacing Schumann’s keys with the dire thump of bass strings. It’s an aching, blue-green patch of sadness that nearly sums up the entire record when Hayley Thompson-King sings, in German, “then all hearts listen and all is delightful; yet no one truly feels the pain of the song’s deep sorrow.”
That’s rock n’ roll, huh?