Four years ago, Illinois singer-songwriter Trevor Sensor released his debut album, Andy Warhol’s Dream on Jagjaguwar. A genre-blending work of folk-inspired, punk infused indie rock tunes, it explored the American idolization of celebrity and the desperation of small town youth yearning for something more. The album won critical praise with it being referred to as a “ragged, feverish concoction, fortified by choppy-bar-band tropes” (Mojo), a “promising first effort for an aggressively intelligent wunderkind climbing the shoulders of giants” (Paste), and “worthy of far more than 15 minutes of fame” (Q Magazine).
Sensor now returns with his new album On Account of Exile Vol. 1, (out 18th June on High Black Desert Records) a collection of rural tales by an aged and imaginative drifter.
The new record is a body of work that laments both internal and external feelings of exile from modern life – decorated with lonesome scenes of small town America. The singer’s trademark raspy voice howls the plights of broken marriages, trailer park living, time passing slowly, and the under currents of cultural turmoil in a civilization that’s lost its identity and soul. Sensor continues his music explorations through infusing new elements of jazz, blues, and symphonic arrangements into his songwriting, while still remaining a straightforward storyteller whose characters subsist on the unreported outskirts. The songs fanatical, the lyricism morbidly direct, Sensor aims past the plastic glamour of 21st Century America in search of, as he says, “What’s really happening out there”.
The album opens with Sensor announcing,“now I’ve seen it come undone” in the funeral horn-laden piano ballad, “Twilights of Idols”. The track sets the tone for a record that revolves around lamenting the past and loss of self. The singer-songwriter never pins down what that “it” is, but we can tell that something has come to an end as the narrator is left with the wreckage of a painful aftermath. Horns swell, the singer moans, but before lingering too long in the melancholic, a key change and scream kick in the companion piece, “Madison Square Garden”. A saxophone-lead romp based in the twelve bar blues, Sensor switches gears with groove and stank depicting the fallacies and woes of upper-class, coastal characters. The tune is littered with McCartney-esque rock n’ roll wailing, preaching from the pulpit on the dark heart of American society jostling into an alcoholic sway of an apocalyptic waltz where Sensor opines on the eve of war that at least tonight it’s not our time to die.
Possibly the most powerful track off the album, “Chiron, Galactus” follows the intro suite as a brutal murder ballad of violent revenge. An acoustic guitar pulses along as the tension builds over a tale of a wife being murdered by religious zealots, only for the narrator to return the favor with mythological zeal claiming the role of God over the fates of the guilty villains. The climax of pounding piano keys and lush strings continue the intensity of the record as we feel Sensor exhausting himself of all his most primal feelings toward life.
Calmer moments we find in the piano ballads “Sawdust Chokes the Wind” and “Somewhere Like Vietnam”. Both of which focus on small town rural characters who suffer from the cold molasses of time. Sensor whispers to us in these moments, using his lower register, as a brief sigh in the quiet night of morbid self-reflection. Here we really feel the isolation aspect of Sensor’s exile tales, the loneliness that comes with the realization of a wasted life passing by without ever being seized. Sensor’s characters don’t possess their own lives, life happens to them, as his harsh directness floats over aimless piano keys that exist in their own time signature.
Sensor caps the first volume of his exile collection with the saloon-stomper, “I’s Hads Me Revelations”. His anguish on full display, the lyrics delve into suicidal ideation, the Millenial-plight of college debt, and the dichotomy of the individual against the worlds they’re tossed into. The vocal delivery is defiant with piano keys being plunked and slammed to the point of breaking. Sensor embodies the classic bluesman with a daunting presence akin to the figure of Howlin’ Wolf tearing down a juke joint at the end of his set. It’s the singer’s last appeal before heading offstage for a drink and a cigarette – knowing tomorrow night he’ll have to start all over again.
“I’ve done my best to separate myself from Time,” Sensor reflects on the newly finished works. “I no longer think about when the next thing will be made or what I should be doing with myself at any point in time. I still gotta wake up and get on with it every morning no matter what’s going on, you know? I’ve always viewed the word ‘career’ as something dirty – a trap that keeps people from living more expansively outside these arbitrary identities or roles they’ve attached themselves to. I believe in just doing things – in action – and doing things well. Anything outside of that is just speculation or dreaming. We’re only living as well as we’re able to remain in the present moment…and that’s what I’m trying to get at each day.”