On the title track from The American Egypt by Mike Viola, the mid-tempo tom-drum pocket with that clean electric bass sound feels so grounded, and behind all of that chorus reverb lurks the introduction to a grand set of genre-nudging personal oeuvres.
The tones are pure, the heart is good, and what will stay with you from the work of Mike Viola is the wry and unabashed personality: the self-effacing sense of humor, the lack of pretense, and the lyrical attention to detail.
“Love and terror
The cult of California
Mr. Crowley’s American Egypt”— Mike Viola
It’s the philosophical equivalent of a disparate garden, abiding ten very different flowers. The essence of Viola’s instinct seems to be the absurdity of life, the isn’t-it-crazy side of personal musing; with an abundance of rich, connected metaphors. But the core of the messaging is deeper than that: it’s a rough sketch of something like a universal truth about the price we pay for hindsight.
“Where are the blue hills
where is my desire
to climb into that hole
where I buried a child”— Mike Viola
Beyond the power of what feels like a punk-informed sense of lyricism, and the stark commitment to a song-by-song sense of genre-minded purity, what emerges is the profile of a broad stylistic generalist - much like his peer and erstwhile studio-mate, Ryan Adams. It is what amounts to a nearly incomprehensible attention to both detail and sonic diversity, accompanied by a unique prosaic cadence: we can all of us find a comfortable place to hide somewhere in the depths of I Forgive You, F**k Face - either in the neurotic sentiment, the throwback 80’s keyboard sound, or both.
“I’m allergic and the darkness around is deep
the shadows full of faces
and voices I don’t know”— Mike Viola
With all the indie-rock ground being covered on The American Egypt, it was only right for Mike Viola to pitch one right down the middle, and that’s what we have with Collins. It is riff-based, the beat ties it together, and Viola goes to a glam-rock vocal attenuation which, delivered over a Hendrix-inspired guitar performance, adds even more depth to his sonic footprint. If you squint at it, you can see the ghost of Joe Walsh.
Bat Girl Panties touches on an Americana flavor, coupled with a prominent acoustic guitar and an interesting use of keyboard. Abundant here, and across the entire collection, is a creative use of the synthesizer, and a willingness to access thematic freedom that typically lies outside of the mainstream. The diverse songwriting talent here should increasingly command attention in a world of saccharin love songs: because the language is humanity, self-knowledge, and acceptance.
And the final denomination in the currency of Mike Viola is a been-there-done-that viewpoint on marriage - the sacrifices, the switchbacks, and the truths, self-evident only in retrospect. There is both pain and joy in the recollection, which is no coincidence. This simple observation about navigating intimacy needed to be said:
“It’s not just about the sex
it’s about forgive and forget
it’s about time we connect
it’s about milking the moment we’re in”— Mike Viola
The American Egypt is featured on our Roots Collection playlist. Please also visit GrandPhony.com to get your hands on some Mike Viola vinyl.
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About the Author
Krister Bjornson Axel
Ogdensburg, New York
Paris, France. Madison, Wisconsin. Los Angeles. Ashland, Oregon. Ottawa. I write music, I write about music, and I write code. See also: photography, prose, podcasting. I have 1 gorgeous wife, 2 amazing kids, and many interests.
Recent Awards: 2020 ND (Photo) Honorable Mention, 2020 Accenti Writing Contest Finalist