Whip: Atheist Lovesongs to God

Atheist Lovesongs To God, the second full-length by Whip (Jason Merritt), offers an intimate glimpse into the Timesbold member's world. The title alludes to Merrit's inability to accept God while simultaneously desiring the solace such belief would impart. Don't assume, however, that such existential concerns translate into tortuous angst; though it's rooted in a folk-blues style, his music favours composed dignity over despair, due in large part to a vocal delivery that evidences little trace of the anguish that suffuses the singing of, say, Kurt Cobain.

As most songs are ballads (predominantly waltz time too), an uptempo romp like “16th Mission” stand out for its bold contrast. While the material often adheres to the gothic folk-blues tradition with Merritt donning the guise of raconteur (“Ballad of Rapp,” “Father”), one of the recording's strongest songs is also the least characteristic: the penultimate “While” stands out as particularly memorable for its haunted melodies and a hazy, slightly psychedelic arrangement. Merritt subtly enhances his starkly arranged acoustic settings with mandolins, banjos, accordion, glockenspiels, and even a Jew's harp on “Reckless Goodness.”

Though inner sleeve text states “All songs written by Whip with parts respectfully borrowed from Tom Rapp, Leadbelly, Lou Reed, Neil Young, Mick Jagger, John Lennon, and several others less obviously,” such 'borrowing' doesn't declare itself in as obvious and conspicuous a manner as the note implies. In fact, the connection is sometimes so subtle it's easy to miss; lyrics in “16th Mission” (“Suckin' on a silver spoon / Dead flowers howlin' at the moon / With a face of flaming fire / Balanced on a golden wire”) are so evocative, you hardly notice the Sticky Fingers reference. Given the inclusion of a stark and affectionate tribute to Nirvana's frontman (“Ballad of Cobain”), it's surprising the late icon isn't included in the list; similarly, after listening to the clatter of junkyard percussion in the back-porch banjo shuffle “Perfect Dive” (“When God moves on water / Better do perfect dive”), one might wonder why Tom Waits' name isn't on the list too.

September 2005