On Friday, Nick Cave and his Bad Seeds will release their new album Skeleton Tree, and other than the soul-wrecking first single “Jesus Alone,” I haven’t heard it yet. Nobody has. Cave’s label has sent out no advances, which means music critics like me are tingling with anticipation just like everybody else. This is Cave’s first album since his son fell off a cliff and died last year. Cave is an artist with a long, storied history of staring deeply into the darkest parts of the human experience, of drinking that darkness in and spitting it back out all over us. The fact that he’s back to recording music so soon after such a life-reshaping personal catastrophe is a miraculous testament to his own strength. Even before hearing the album, I can feel the weight of its presence. It’s out there, waiting. And in a few days, it will be stomping all over my soul. But now, there is a chance, however slight, that Skeleton Tree will not be the best Nick Cave album that comes out on Friday.
I’m being glib here, of course. Star Treatment, the new Wovenhand album, is not a Nick Cave album. It’s not fair to Cave to imply that it is. It’s also not fair to David Eugene Edwards, the Denver musician who has been leading Wovenhand since 2001, since it was a side project of his mutant-country band 16 Horsepower. But Edwards has been treading some of the same territory as Cave for a long time now. His music deals in the same darkness, the same obsessiveness. His songs are steeped in the history of American music, of folk and country and blues, and yet they owe as much to some of the clanging, confrontational forms that followed: punk, metal, hardcore, noise-rock. His songs sound like incantations, like prayers bubbling up from below. He’s not Cave, but he’s cut from the same cloth.