But You Won’t Want to Leave
They’re not just Phosphorescent’s backup band. Earnest folk rockers Virgin Forest deliver a quiet stunner with Easy Way Out, an effort whose enduring strength is drawn largely from its rustic and solemn execution. Recalling everyone’s favorite party game Jenga, if you pulled any more tabs from this music’s structure, it might just fall apart. But that’s the lovely, Spartan beauty of it. Vocalist Scott Stapleton and the boys awaken an atmosphere so readymade, so perfectly formed, you’re helplessly thrust into its condensed, depressive vertigo.
“Don’t Be Afraid” makes a portentous opener. Stapleton’s plain and plaintive chant, “Don’t be afraid of my love,” repeated over and over, might seem too simple at first, but the track’s hard-hitting pulse and dreamy bass line serve to reveal a purposeful haiku intensity. Some emotive Telecaster whelps are floated over top as well, and it’s just pitch-perfect—feeling like hours of emotion compressed into four minutes.
Easy Way Out is by no means an easy album. It’s not about transcendence, resolution or even recovery. In fact, rarely is there a hope of getting out of the woods. Song after song, you just feel lost in the brush—a thicket of loneliness, regret and desperation. You wait and wait, and the rescue chopper never arrives. That’s the aching challenge of Stapleton’s lyrics: But for a few turns of optimism placed here and there, as in the sweet-natured “Big Ol’ Mama,” you’re forced to languish in a bottomless place of hurt. That and a nagging, anxious cynicism.
“Antichrist Blues,” “Lifted,” and “Easy Way Out,” in fact, form a three-pronged Devil’s fork of suicidal frustration. “I don’t remember the past, no hope in the future, and the present won’t last,” wails the singer on “Lifted,” the trident’s hellish middle tine, recalling The Gun Company’s Jeffrey Lee Pierce at his bansheeist. A burned Stapleton cements his rebellion with “Antichrist,” meting a feisty backhand to The Man Upstairs: “I already have a father, so I don’t need me another one.”
Virgin Forest turns in their most hauntingly beautiful track in “Song For Nino.” Its staid and sincere longing is conveyed so sparely and with such tenderness, you’re left with emotions that truly penetrate your being. In sum, the record is a short listen—well under a half hour—but very powerful. The singer’s concise lyrics, as well as the band’s understated country style, add up to a very memorable if trying experience. This is grown-up music full of grown-up thoughts. Though its depression is painful, its beauty is undeniable.