Bomethius’s Intimatitudes offers a complex, compelling, and sometimes jarringly contradictory take on themes long sustained by the singer-songwriter tradition, especially the (im)possibility and value of romantic and familial love. “Empty Promises,” the opening track, aptly sets the tone for this richly jaundiced musical diary. In a swirling over-dubbed vocal gesture reminiscent of Brian Wilson remixing Palestrina, the listener is invited into a generous, echoing landscape that manages to feel both churchy and playfully irreverent. (This song also invokes the liminal, ghostly work of artists like Bon Iver.) Without words, we are confronted with a sonic tension that is explored lyrically through the rest of the album. Structured as a series of brief, burning epiphanies on the frustrations and fleeting delights of human social life, Intimatitudes is a sweeping, raging, mischievous, and frolicsome journey.
Bomethius is at his best as a songwriter in moments of high dramatic irony—or is that sarcastic sincerity?—when the stakes of the music and the words seem grossly out of sync. This vexed approach to the text-music problem is exemplified in songs like “HURTis,” which weds piano balladry and Beatles-esque lyricism with a patina of experimentalism, balancing intimacy with a heady swirl of sonic phantasmagoria. All of this musical romanticism provides support to a stark and unflinching psychoanalytic reading of a cast-off lover: “Does anyone really love you?” he goads, “Do you even love yourself?” (The shadow of this unhappy lover—or others, real or imaginary—stalks many of the tracks on this album.) Another illustration of this polarity can be found in “Merried,” the penultimate track, a twinkling, crystalline offering that belies its sardonic lyrics warning of the futility of sustained love: “No matter whom you love / and how much they hate you / each of us must die alone. Pretty clothes and ashes / Gardens of bones.” This may seem lachrymose were it not accompanied by a wash of romantic piano chords and shimmering electric piano textures, forcing the listener to believe the dulcet vocal tones over the flinty and unyielding words. Never has solitude and decay been so charmingly rendered.
In addition to his perspectives on romantic relationships, Bomethius also daringly and playfully tackles less common lyrical terrain, including a number of tracks on the pleasures, banalities, and annoyances of family life (“HURTis,” “In-laws”), replete with a generous helping of keen observations from the piquant (“If it weren’t for secretaries,” he sings in “The Kiwi Tree,” “where would our step mothers be?”) to the wry (“I’ll hate your in-laws, if you’ll hate mine”). It is clear from songs like these—and the cute “Siblings”—that hell for Bomethius is not, as might be inferred from some of the darker lyrical fare on the album, other people. Though he may disagree with Sartre on this point, at the very least he shows that other people offer up good material, even if our moments with them are sometimes too painful to be approached in any other way but through the opiating prism of song. As if finally coming to terms with the Janus-faced nature of interpersonal closeness, the album closes with a return to sibling solidarity (“Hope Springs Internal”), and fades out on a resolute note of faith, acceptance, and grace. This ending doesn’t make you forget the bile on Bomethius’s tongue through most of the album, but it’s an effective palette-cleanser nonetheless.
This grim yet joyous ambivalence is at the core of Bomethius’s achievement. Intimatitudes is a swirling Dichterliebe of regrets, heartache, and other species of despair, at once shot through with a sly, sideward wink: the Poet is performing his role, and reveling in the portrayal. Whether this is “sincere” or not is beside the point—its greatest strength lies in its gracious, full-throated claim to the space between art and artifice. Wise and world-weary beyond his years, Bomethius offers a debut album worthy of serious attention.