Caught somewhere between the suburban sprawl of Godspeed You Black Emperor's apocalyptic churn and Son Volt's eternal midnight highway, the pale ghost of Vic Chesnutt continues to rove like a phantom troubadour. By degrees slightly darker in tone than some of his earlier work, North Star Deserter finds Chesnutt's trademark sense of humor a little more blackened but his humility still intact. "You Are Never Alone," his heavily sedated and non-judgmental take on various overly prescribed medications ("It's OK/you can take a Prilosec/It's OK/you can take Biaxin"), rings ironically true. But his most stinging metaphor comes at the close of "Marathon" when he offers: "Tears do evaporate/but oh so slow/like piss on a toilet seat." It's certainly not laugh-out-loud funny, but its brutality is enough to poke holes through the oppressive seriousness associated with this genre of music.
The predominantly instrumental post-rock label Constellation Records might seem like an odd fit for Chesnutt, but it proves a fortuitous marriage. With members of Silver Mt. Zion and Fugazi, among others, lending primeval arrangements to his doom folk compositions, Chestnutt's songs shine brightly whether treated with the gentle flicker of candlelight or the sustained burn of a crematory furnace. It's strangely apropos of Chestnutt's career and talent that death-oriented music such as this can sound so completely vital.
Aaron Shaul writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.