Slouching Towards Tomorrow
Album Release Party: Anthony Worden and the Illiterati w/ American Cream
Trumpet Blossom Cafe — Friday, Sept. 21 at 9:30 p.m.
Jorge Luis Borges’ story “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote” imagines a poet whose greatest work is recreating Cervantes’ Don Quixote word for word, not by transcription but by creating it anew. The paradox Borges proposes is that a man in the 20th century can’t be a 17th century Spaniard; to arrive at the same text is a new creation, a quixotic quest.
AJ Worden’s Slouching Towards Tomorrow is inescapably tied to musical touchstones of the ’60s and ’70s, particularly Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. It is wrong to say that his music is derivative of those influences, even as the listener can’t escape noticing them. Like Borges’ poet Menard, his project is a fresh creation in a new context; instead of 1965 New York, Worden lives in 2018 Iowa.
The first song, “Start It Up (With You),” has a sophisticated arrangement full of jangly guitar and electric piano, over which Worden’s voice is more delicate and overtly tuneful than in his previous work. The next song, “Don’t Wanna To Hurt Anymore,” contains the pivotal lyric of the album: When Worden sings “I just can’t stay cool any more/Help me,” it points to a mature, open-hearted vulnerability. It’s followed, though, by the fuzzy, grinding groove of “Respite,” with Lou Reed-esque talk-singing: “A killer acts like a killer does/there ain’t no reason he believes in blood.”
The jerky off-kilter beat of “Hang Tuff” seems to reflect obliquely on current events: “We look for the answer but we look the wrong way.” Worden exhorts the listener to “hang tuff,” which implies an optimism not actually present in the song.
The centerpiece of the album is “Dead Boy’s Shirt,” which introduces an underlying drone sustained through to the end of the album. “That Don’t Make Me Feel Good” ends with a layered, droning coda combining synths with what sounds like a sitar and what may be a jet taking off.
On the album closer, “Slip Away,” Worden croons about slipping away into the night. It’s a fitting end to this sequence. The songs hang together as a loose narrative about growing up and finding love in perilous times. It’s more a continuation of a folk tradition instigated by Lou Reed back in the day than an homage or imitation. It’s sly and insinuating, even as it leaves behind the detachment of irony. When Worden sings that he “can’t stay cool anymore,” he’s actually engaging, taking a chance on love. And that’s a cool that transcends any adolescent notion of the word.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 250.