After his breakthrough 2019 release Sweet Nothings, Jonathan Hodges, the solo artist behind Bomethius, pledged to do something different. While the record aptly explored new styles, displaying Hodges’ remarkable growth as a songwriter and filling out the character of his earnest and hungry but downright tortured alter ego, he feared unwittingly pigeonholing himself as “another sad minimalist” if he didn’t change directions.
Given the borderline baroque complexity of Hodges’ quality homemade recordings, his worries didn’t proceed from the substance of his manic meditations on family, alienation, and indifference, but rather their spirit. He needed to temper his fervor, not with levity, but with laughter — genuine even if seasoned with suffering.
So, he coaxed Dave Hodges, his uncle and closest family member, into working with him to create a more evolved sound. A longtime writer and amateur composer with a brief performing career in the late 1990s, Dave lent his nephew not only his taste and expertise as the family’s resident cognoscente of music and poetry, but also the wisdom afforded by the eighteen additional years he’d spent wrestling with the same preoccupations that have fueled Bomethius’ music from the beginning.
The result was Bomethius’ fourth album, a full-length collaboration called inadiquit. At turns excruciatingly tender and raucously explosive, the record takes as its subject the enduring trauma of a troubled upbringing coupled with misguided devotion to toxic religion. But unlike some of Bomethius’ earlier work, inadiquit remembers the past with greater appreciation for the shadows in the margins and a more keenly stropped insight into the workings of the human heart. With these contributions from the elder Hodges, Jonathan can complement his trademark weltschmerz and angst — that certainly still smolder on inadiquit — with hopeful resolutions borne of maturity and understanding. These eight tracks represent yet another significant leap for Bomethius in terms of compositional prowess, emotional fiber, and production quality.
The record begins with the soothing vocals of “The Old Ones,” where a light right hand on the piano accompanies the opening verse to conjure the voice of a loving mother’s gentle solace. However, beginning with the words “No one told you,” each line riffs on different forms of parental prohibition and punishment that have prevailed to define how a child views his place in the world. Verse by verse, the song piles on layers of voices and instruments to morph into a triumphal celebration of a toddler’s madcap mischief and boundless imagination for freedom, where transgression takes on existential significance for the adult trapped in misty reminiscence. After peaking, though, it slowly drifts back down and returns to the opening chords, now trepid and tinged with melancholy, like the mournful recollection of an invaluably precious gift that’s been forever stolen. It’s a musical dead ringer for saudade, the famously untranslatable Portuguese word that denotes a profoundly emotional nostalgia for something that’s gone for good and may have never even existed in the first place. Along with the hapless victims of the caper (an army of ants trying to steal food from the family pantry), the song itself becomes a metaphor for what can happen to a child’s formidable capacity to create and nurture his own happiness — crushed and eaten, not so much by the world, but by parents who’ve convinced themselves they’re doing you a favor.
Even at just the second track, “The Machine” is arguably the centerpiece, introducing the religious hang-ups that inform the rest of the record. Over the course of seven minutes, dramatic transitions bind together the song’s varied styles — everything from clean, tender fingerpicking to a classic Pink Floyd organ and saxophone solo, to a refrain of Renaissance- style polyphony. With a catalogue of vivid figures, the song uses an archetypal machine as an extended metaphor not just for the twisted faith of predeterminism, but also for the experience of growing up within its confines and sincerely believing it to be correct. Evocative verses teem with references to mechanistic brutality — rods, cranks, shafts, tanks, and baths of oil and lye — all formidable symbols for the enduring confusion and agony that attend sincere devotion to a heartless deity’s system of fatalistic salvation (where “nothing we do really matters”). At the same time, though, the song shows how such daily existential dread and anxiety morph a person into the very thing he or she most fears. In a nod to the Marxist concept of false consciousness, the addled adolescent, taught to feel “so warm and secure" in this “most glorious prison,” himself becomes a machine in turn.
Before resolving its dark-night-of-the-soul narrative with a jailbreak that begins with rebellion and ends in sacrifice, “The Machine” also makes the record’s first of many allusions to chemical sedation with a tight double entendre. The “aether” that “comforts right down to the bone” in the song’s opening verse definitely points to the unattainable enlightenment such a system presses its tortured adherents to pursue — like the will-o’-the-wisp, always just a bit farther away. But it’s also a straightforward description of a wretch, spurred by persistent doubt and self-loathing, drowning his mind with anesthetic.
With the two “Eye Surgery” tracks, the songwriting duo run with Jesus’ metaphor for judging others in the Sermon on the Mount. Together, the double feature imbues the prospect of “taking the log out of your own eye” to “take out the speck” in your brother’s with the existential doubt and terror that should perhaps always accommodate it. In part I, plaintive harmonies accompany a piano’s plodding left hand to narrate the plight of a reluctant surgeon convinced he must carry on with the procedure (“It should be easy to keep it open / While the blade quivers before your eyes”). Nevertheless, his persuasions can’t keep him from losing his nerve as the undertaking forces him to acknowledge his “good eye is all but blind since the log’s been taken out.” No longer blinkered by his own flaws and hypocrisy, he can now appreciate the deplorable behavior that has characterized his life and can no longer bring himself to judge anyone. At the same time, though, the song speaks to a deeper truth about human weakness that Jesus’ directive implies: We can only see through the lens of our own shortcomings. If we lose that, we can’t see at all.
If part I embodies how most attempts to judge others would go if everyone took Jesus’ words seriously, part II captures what most judgments really are: deflected self-reproach and repressed guilt. A soulful barroom ballad, the second “Eye Surgery” repeats a steady phrase on the piano alongside a rollicking melody that rises and falls like a storm-tossed ship. The opening verses appear to describe the obtuse prig who deprecates himself only to ballast the more important work of condemning others for his own faults (“No amount of scraping / With your stupid little knife / Can make you seem alright ... You’ll find the eyes of another / Are your own personal mirrors”). The changing pronouns in the track’s closing refrain apply that reproof to everyone, however, undermining the song’s earlier criticisms (“We’re the log in your own / And the speck in each other’s eyes”). By accepting a kind of universal responsibility for human weakness, part II reinforces the conclusion of part I that sight is nothing but blindness.
The windswept instrumental “Improvisation No. 1” meanders through ten minutes of rich emotion, quoting Mozart and Chopin among shifting movements of grief, anger, doubt, contrition, grit, and escape. At once hopeful and despondent, its many voices capture the kind of internal monologue and spiritual inventory that attend the distress of realizing the undeniable cruelty of life. Refusing to resolve, the composition simply shuts down in a moment of flight, its silence ushering in the speechless heartbreak of all the unsettled echoes left to ring and fester in a young mind.
Bomethius’ most sonically advanced production, “A Mazing Tonic” adapts an unusual poem written by Dave to create a potent narrative about the quest for enlightenment through psychedelics. The author calls the text an “initialistic acrostic,” where every line comprises sets of three words, each of which repeats the initials of the hallucinogen AMT (as in the opening line: “Ask Me Tomorrow About My Things”).
With a seductive, cyclical melody, Jonathan’s vocals roll among a dancing piano, clean guitar licks, and layers of chary harmonies. Steeped in references to open-eye visuals and closed-eye phantoms, the verses wend through the disjecta membra of repeated descents into the torn fabric of his own mind. In search of truths he can’t prize from his normal life, the songwriter peers into the mystical realms of the subconscious and whatever lies beyond it but finds no lasting satisfaction among the ensorcelling visions and epiphanies he chases and so desperately longs to decipher and absorb again and again.
Regardless, despite all the stark imagery, this is no mere bad trip. Though spliced with moments of ecstasy and exclamation, an unmistakable fatigue suffuses the younger Hodges’ vocals. Like an eager but doomed wayfarer losing the thread within the labyrinth, the rhymes lose conviction and stamina as the song’s descriptions of the pilgrim deteriorate. “Another man treads” becomes “another mad tripper” and then dissolves into “another mind twister.” As “awareness melts” — which provides the outlet his broken spirit craves while voiding the ostensible aim of these ventures — the track suddenly swarms with freak-out distortion, feedback, and dissonance before the pensive guitar interlude that follows.
As this sublime revelation continually eludes his grasp to recede just a little farther off, he pretends to deflect his mounting anxiety with the febrile hope he can wring some entertaining stories out of his travails (“after my tales awaken mirthful times”). That way, he can pass off his slakeless thirst for illumination as the recreational stunts of a pleasure-seeking reveler. Even these tales, however, must wait until tomorrow because he’s still incapable of countenancing the state of his life. But the forecast for tomorrow is the same: “Ask me tomorrow about my things / As my tongue absorbs magical tea.” By this point, it’s clear the “things” that bookend the song don’t refer to his possessions or personality so much as the effects of the psychedelic exploits that have come to define him.
Crashing percussion drowns out the melody before giving way to the distorted sounds of a weary traveler — heavy footsteps trudging through a desolate hinterland as a voice doggedly but erroneously cries out the final, but forever indefinite, words: “All most there.” Just as the structure of the acrostic points to the warped way he views the world around him — where everything is forced to conform to a procrustean pattern — the broken spellings of the poem’s title and last line stress the cracks in his crusade to unlock the mysteries that plague his soul.
The harrowing title track follows with a potent jeremiad against the enduring heartbreak and victimization that attend religiously motivated child abuse. With the voice of a young adult who’s flown the coop, the opening verses seethe with irony to describe the depression and squalid living situation of a man who’s been robbed of his ability to grow up. Racked with shame and alienated from the world as well as himself, he surveys his life with wry contempt for what he’s become — cowed into a shell, collapsed in the corner of his barren hovel, his kneecaps “at rest” as they bore into the sockets of his skull. As the song’s most barbed line suggests, he’s also likely coming down from an otherwise ceaseless supply of deliriants. “I have to get by cheaply / If I expect to get by full,” he sings, where “full” points not to nourishment but to an insatiable appetite for sedation to palliate the inadequacy and self- loathing that a tormented childhood breeds.
From thence, the stanzas detail the damage down, where the song’s title comes to describe both the way the child was reared and the way the child views himself, rent like “innards from a gourd / Spilled out on the floor.” With raw heartache, the song challenges the hackneyed parental refrains (such as “This hurts me more / Than it ever hurt you”) that can never assuage a child’s incapacity to equate the source of his overwhelming anguish and fear with the people who gave him life and swore to protect him.
The record closes with the plaintive instrumental, “Yoke.” With the uncle on piano and the nephew on violin, the two melodies summon all the sensations of violated hope and sorrowful remembrance but filter them through a lens of healing. Although that lens may appear dim and cloudy at times, with grumbling clouds and leaden palls obstructing the view, the outlook is nevertheless promising. As the melodies dovetail into their final rest, it becomes clear the demons of the past — while perhaps still lurking in the darker recesses of the mind — are at least on their way, one by one, to the slow, satisfying exorcism they deserve.
After all its existential audits, inadiquit adjourns with a profound acceptance of the way of the cross — weakness, deliverance, and love that overcomes enmity and affliction. That yoke may not always be easy and light, but it tills the record’s devastating indictments into the solace and resolution of unsolicited forgiveness that only the long process of recovery can yield.