Style: Woolly psychedelic rock with a twinge of country; no apt comparisons
Top tracks: "Think of As One," "True Love Cast Out All Evil," "Please, Judge"
If Roky Erickson's new album is a harrowing listen, it's because it's, quite literally, the story of his life—and things have never been easy for Erickson. The Austin native has been making records since the late 1960s, and True Love Cast Out All Evil collects stray songs he's written over those four decades, a period in which he experienced painful struggles with drugs, mental illness, the penal system, and, darkest of all, with electro-shock therapy.
True Love is Erickson's first collaboration with indie rockers Okkervil River, who inject his fuzzy, woolly psychedelic rock with just the right levels of garage-rock energy and Texas twang. It's an intoxicating sound, not quite like anything else either collaborator has done. And if it sounds a bit like an exorcism of the singer's own demons, well, you can understand why. It's clear that Erickson finds some solace and relief in finally singing these troubled songs.
But this isn't just about catharsis: Erickson makes tentative stabs at hope, and at times it sounds for all the world like he's just about made peace with himself and with his past. He repeats the album's title like a mantra, but it's more than just a plea—it's sung with the resolve that true love really can cast out evil, and that even a soul as bruised as Erickson's isn't outside the realm of healing.
Erickson's trials—literal and figurative—show up here as ghosts of a past he'd just as soon forget, but never as bitterness; his hardships have filled him with compassion, enough that the natural conclusion for this album is a series of songs emphasizing unity and peaceful living ("Think of As One"). Even when Erickson addresses his run-ins with justice head-on, he isn't angry, but empathetic—"Please, Judge" is an album highlight, and a heartfelt plea for grace.
On paper, Erickson's poetry doesn't always work; on record, though, it's mesmerizing, an outpouring of a lifetime of darkness and a dogged belief that hope is real. He doesn't have a perfectly firm grasp on the source of that hope just yet, but there are powerful steps toward it. The record begins and ends with what sound like prison reels, and both of these bookending tracks address the Divine: "Devotional Number One" is a bizarre theological fever dream, but closing number "God Is Everywhere" is more clear: Here Erickson states, with conviction, that God is zealous to bring back the "lost and never-known treasures"—treasures like Erickson himself. Amen, and amen.
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