Get the lowdown on the entirety of The Tender Age’s seamless subversion
There’s something going on that’s not quite right in Ward White’s “Dirty Clouds.”
It’s obvious in both the video, which opens with the L.A. singer/songwriter encountering an abandoned boat on the middle of a desert road, and in the song itself, which White describes as “A collection of one-sided phone conversations… snapshots and fragmented dialogue from people in nebulous peril.”
The song, taken from his October 8 release The Tender Age, could be a collection of excerpts from different conversations or the same one. But whatever the case, both parties are involved in something unsavory. As is sometimes the case with White’s work, we learn more by what’s left out, in both the sun-soaked, eerily uneventful imagery in the video and the naggingly non-specific nature of what we’re permitted to overhear in the lyrics.
In a manner loosely analogous to Donald Fagen with the jazz influences Hoovered out, White delights in dropping us into the middle of offbeat scenarios and leaving only a curious collection of conceptual breadcrumbs to illuminate the surroundings. His airy, agile tenor hangs it all elegantly atop his crafty but unfailingly accessible harmonic twists.
A chat with White shook loose a little inside dope on some of the stories being plaid out across The Tender Age, and they underline just how disparate and unpredictable his inspirations are, and how much seamless subversion his songwriting can encompass. Here’s a song-by-song cheat sheet for navigating the rest of The Tender Age, straight from the songsmith’s mouth.
“The narrator of Easy Meat fights a losing battle against unforgivable urges, promising “It was just a thought I had, I would never really act on it…” It’s not what I would consider a particularly sympathetic character, but his equivocations fascinate me. It brings to mind one of my all-time favorites, Randy Newman’s In Germany Before the War.”
VIDEO: Randy Newman “In Germany Before The War”
Let’s Don’t Die at the Stoplight
“This came out of a harrowing experience where we were caught in the crossfire of an attempted murder while waiting for the light to change. It was in Atlanta in the middle of the afternoon – I looked right in his eyes while he emptied the gun. When it was over, we just drove back to the hotel and ordered Indian food. The lyrics question the motive, but also my reaction, which ran the gamut from abject fear to ambivalence.”
“Wherein a recently deceased Chet Baker hopes to be reunited with his teeth. Tyler Chester’s grand piano and Hammond B-3 carry the track, as Baker discovers that in heaven, as in life, there’s always the fine print.”
“On some level this one must have emerged from my deep love for Fitzcarraldo, with a soupcon of The Most Dangerous Game. Gotta fill three minutes somehow!”
The Tender Age
“An LAPD cop with dubious connections rankles his partner with a surprise spiritual conversion. I haven’t decided if it’s supposed to be taken literally, in fact, it might all be a dream.”
Gail, Where’s Your Shoes?
“This is a true story about a girl named Gail who walked past me on my deck, and engaged me in conversation about the Eucalyptus tree, shoeless.”
Wasn’t It Here
“Old Testament wordplay, comingled with phrases such as ‘Peanut butter accolades,’ which appeared to me in a dream. A failed attempt at sleazy glam stomp.”
“A vaguely self-referential lamentation on the trials of the songwriter, along with non-sequiturs from the sort of damaged characters with whom he must cohabitate.”
“There’s a rather grim strip mall in San Bernardino County with multi-business signage, all in the same font and size. The top two, when viewed quickly from a passing vehicle, advertised “KARATE DENTIST”. I immediately felt responsible for him.”
“This is a dream song from start to finish, analysis just weakens its already rickety bones. It does include a brief debate between the singer and the composer about the merits of stream-of-consciousness poetry. The Monrovia in question is the capital of Liberia, not the city in the San Gabriel Valley. Nothing against it, though.”
The Tender Age is available for preorder now at his BandCamp page.
VIDEO: Ward White “Dirty Clouds”