Dietrich Strause – How Cruel That Hunger Binds

Album Review | Self Release | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 4/5

Dietrich Strause is a difficult man to pin down, on this album his music is informed by Americana, Alt Folk and early jazz but it is all filtered through a gauze of strangeness. At times he evokes the absinthe melancholy of Madeline Peyroux, at times his singing is right there with the best of The Fleet Foxes, upbeat but chilling. “The Beast That Rolls Within” the opening track has ambience and an Alt-Folk feel of The Low Anthem or The Great Lake Swimmers. Strause’s vocal rings out over a very rich mix of guitar and electronics that swirl around him. The lyrics are full of Americana references that add to the folk feel. “Lying in Your Arms” lifts the tempo and the mood with a brass heavy chorus that sounds like Neil Hannon and the Divine Comedy. There are no music credits on the album so we are left to assume that Strause, a music college trumpet major who left to pursue an interest in guitar is providing all the layered textures of guitar, organ and brass himself. “Pennsylvania” after “The Beast That Rolls Within” is an album highlight. The lyric and vocal again have a Baptist hymn quality that recalls the best of The Fleet Foxes, but with a wonderfully woozy New Orleans Jazz intro that leads to beautiful double bass, piano and a plaintive layered vocal. “Home From the Heartland” is a strong anthem of a track, another high point, the lyrics rich with religious imagery just ooze atmosphere and class. Strause’s vocals shine through on this track, testifying over a dirty jazz Hammond part and some sparse but tasteful backing. “Around the World” is a darkly beautiful track of regret that suits Strause’s melancholic delivery perfectly. It opens with a twisted harmonium part and a clarinet part that would make Sidney Bechet smile with the music building and swelling through the song. “Boy Born to Die” is all about the layered guitars, with a plucked electric part that recalls the clipped electric Gibson of Michael Chapman, but still those dark sinister brass parts twist the song into something else. “So Long So Far” starts as a dark lullaby drifting through an alcoholic or drug induced haze giving way to an upbeat section with a dirty saxophone part that smoulders like the best of Morphine and Dana Colley, an almost guitar wig-out and ending with more New Orleans chamber jazz. “The World Once was Turning” arrives with a wonderfully evocative percussion loop, if Tom Waits had come in on the vocal he would not have sounded out of place, it is very much that kind of sonic space. This is another wonderful song of regret that builds and just as you are wondering what next it stops, I’m sure that’s a metaphor for something. The album is short, the songs are short, perfectly formed but short, often leaving you wondering what next. The album was recorded in seven days in a farmhouse studio in Maine that shortness of time may be responsible in part for the brevity, perhaps that’s part of their charm and appeal that they are perfect, beautiful and fleeting. Like bubbles in 17th Century Vanitas paintings of Pieter Claesz or Harmen Steenwijck the tracks are arresting things of beauty that hold your attention completely while they are with you but all too quickly they are gone and that is very metaphorical.