It’s easy to look to the format of a record as an autobiographical unveiling of routine minutiae. Springsteen perhaps codified this best in his early years with songs of bus rides and record company advances, intertwining with forlorn romances with Jersey girls and automobiles. There’s a comfortable feeling of what Bruce was like at 24, even if some of the verbosity leaves little to the imagination. It is a different circumstance, however, when an artist an artist details the intimacy of their formative years within a succinct package of songs delivered in a most humble of manners. Chicago native and Paper Arrows frontman Joe Goodkin has done just this in the remarkably revealing Record of Life.
The aptly titled Life is quite literally a recollection of Goodkin’s younger years; from the fragility of the lives of pets, the inevitable failure of friendships and the lingering ghosts of those who pass. Recorded under equally sordid circumstances as their subject matter implies (Goodkin lost both his grandfather and family dog during the process) the songs become just that much more tangible.
In less than six tracks, Goodkin transforms from indie frontperson to a Mutations-era Beck while cutting their teeth on the early works of Cohen. It seems impossible – or at the very least, unwise – that Goodkin should include the scope of such subjects on what is essentially record shorthand. Turns out the shorthand is more than enough, at times almost verging into verbosity. It doesn’t leave one wanting, unless it’s to take a deep inhalation and percolate some coffee while examining one’s own life in the process.
Upon first listen Record Of Life came off as inoffensively fine, perfectly quiet and solemn as quiet and solemn albums go. However, upon repeat listens it was evident that Goodkin was presenting quite a battered version of himself, vulnerable and nostalgic all the same. Goodkin doesn’t allude to the past so much as he is often explicitly sorrowful – a refreshing turn from the use allegorical snowfall or leaves passing that so many artists employ.