AMIGO THE DEVIL – Yours Until The War Is Over (Liars Club/Regime Music Group)

Yours Until The War Is OverBaptised in the same waters as Tom Waits and Nick Cave, if you’ve not encountered him before this is the musical nom de plume of Danny Kiranos, a tonsorially hirsute Florida-born singer songwriter of Greek/Spanish parentage and an affinity for cinematic folk-noir. Yours Until The War Is Over, his third album, takes its title from the love affair between the teenage Ernest Hemingway and his nurse Agnes von Kurowsky in the closing months of World War I, the phrase being how she used to sign off her letters to him, and proving singularly prophetic. The songs don’t tell their story, but they do use it as a well from which to draw themes of trauma bonding, addiction, doubt, death and narcissism.

Working with a core backing of David Talley on electric and acoustic, bassist Jason Dietz and drummer Carson Kehrer, Katerina Kiranos providing back vocals, it opens with the slow prowling rhythm of ‘Hanging by the Roots’ and its grim view of the world (“Son in this business you won’t find a place/For favors, forgiveness or grace/Are you bound to find hope/Or just become a victim of the rope”). Turning to clattering Waits-like junkyard blues, the growly ‘It’s All Gone’ asks “Does a hammer hit harder with a purpose?/Is it driven by the fear of the nail?” as it presents the scenario where “the Commodore and the cannibal/They’re starving and both need to eat”, addressing matters of survival and that “a civilized man will judge what he can/Until the ship drowns and men become meat”, essentially being about how circumstances can force reassessments of who we are as “he finally understands why the cannibals hands have the same blood as his own…When empathy has all gone to hell”.

Spaghetti Western colours provide the canvas for ‘I’m Going To Heaven’, a gothic tale of a how a widowed husband (“full of hate/Loaded on ketamine and heartbreak”) kills himself so he can take revenge on his wife’s religious fanatic murderer suicide in the afterlife, assuming he’ll find him in hell only for the devil to tell him “that prick isn’t here, he’s up in the kingdom”, and subsequently striking a deal that “if I spent some time/Pouring bleach in sinners eyes/He’d send me on a bullet train to the lord”. It’s a fabulously twisted drama but also amusingly peppered with such reference as Dylan’s ‘Knocking On Heaven’s Door’, ‘Bat Out Of Hell’ and even ‘All Dogs Go To Heaven’ before it pulls its Bobby Ewing In The Shower twist.

Fingerpicked acoustic with Cohen melodic inflections, ‘The Mechanic’ is a simple waltzing love song about trying to fix a relationship (“I know it’s been years since the first time you heard this/But this time I promise it’s real”) that you broke by trying to fix it (“I knew you weren’t broken/I just needed something to fix… I had no idea what the words really meant/ Until the day I said them to you…We used to be happy, now used to be is all we’ve become”).

It gets rowdier with ‘Once Upon A Time At Texaco Pt. 1’, reverting to storytelling in the banjo-driven tale of how things go pear-shaped when the narrator decides to rob a Texaco to get more booze for his drunk buddies and things go horribly wrong (“I said we’re going to sing a song called the sound of silence/And you, just open the fucking drawer/But he pulled out a gun like a magician/Well, I’ve also learned some magic through the years/My bullet hocus pocus’ed through the back of his head and made the side of his jaw disappear”) and ends up taking a hostage.

‘Barrel And Staghorn’, a broodingly sparse desert-parched banjo instrumental interlaced with disorienting radio chatter, leads into the equally stripped-down and atmospheric, ‘Agnes’, a love letter with echoey background choir vocals from whence the album title comes, things kept sparse for the vibraphone and plucked banjo ‘Cannibal Within’ and its theme of drug addiction (“I always thought my biggest fear would somehow be love related, not fentanyl/I can blame the addiction for that/With the additional countdown to a heart attack…All the parts we hate start adding up/Until we find ourselves with more regret than blood/The moment we don’t recognize the person inside our skin/We’re losing the fight, eaten alive by the cannibal within”). But even here he has room for some gallows humour in the line “Just turn on the radio and cock it back/I just don’t wanna blow my brains out to Hotel California” as well as another cultural reference this time to Carson McCullers’ The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter.

Featuring just acoustic guitar and Kiranos on backing vocals, ‘Garden Of Leaving’ is another deep dive into darkness and tragedy, here a couple grieving the loss of a child (“The drive home was unbearable/The baby seat held nothing but a feeling/Our greatest joy had come into the world/The same day she would leave it”) and the void it creates between them (“When we pulled into the driveway/Of the home we built together/It felt so far away from the plans that we conceived/The door cried when it opened/And every wall sounded like it was grieving/An echo in the darkness said you’re home, in the garden of leaving…standing in the kitchen/With a hundred miles between us”).

Again haunted by Cohen’s melancholic ghost, Spanish guitar waltzes with the weary resignation of ‘Virtue And Vitriol’ (“ My heart has accepted its beating/This tongue only knows to forgive/When these feet only dance to the rhythm you’ve chosen…I can’t only be/A hand that needs you/The blade never cares for the handle/The lie doesn’t understand truth/It’s less of the morals and more of the lessons/That keep me coming back to you”) and a relationship that’s sucked the life from them (“When the gravedigger reaches to bury my body/There’s nothing you’ve left to put in”).

At which point, you feel a little light might not go amiss, and with the opening laughter, ragtime guitar, string bass shuffle and even the sound of a cork popping, ‘One Day At A Time’ might seem to promise this, until you get to the lyrics about falling apart a day at a time with the narrator left with nothing to live for after his lover walks out (“I’m burning down this mansion where I’m the only one living/Cause nothing feels like home without you in it/I’ll bankrupt all my businesses till everything is gone/Cause what’s the point of money without you to spend it on”), she proving a reason to die for but not in the way he first hoped.

Opening with distorted reverb guitar before the fierce slow striding blues sets in, ‘Stray Dog’ draws on well-worn blues lyrics tropes (“Oh you treat me like a stray dog/Trying its way home./You feed me like an animal too wounded/To eat on its own/You touch my body like it’s dressed in disease/And you’re the only savior I need”), of preferring to be done wrong than full stop. Again flashing his sense of humour, there’s the sound of barking dogs while the credits offer a list of background singers by breed,

It end with the appropriately titled ‘Closer’, a spoken word vignette that, accompanied on acoustic guitar, opens with the lines “On her way out of the antique store/She read a sign that ended with, “Life is short”/And she chuckled out loud and said/I guess it can always be shorter”/The cashier nearby overheard  and replied/”Yeah, that’s what my son thought too”/And then he proved it” and unfolds as rumination on trying to come to terms with life (“Are we the vision we create or are we created in someone else’s vision/How to win, it all boils down to how to win, doesn’t it/Even if you’re not competitive, how do you overcome/How do you get through the day…How do you win enough money, the love you want/How do you win friends/Once we win, though, we tell ourselves we’ll be set/We’ll be alright”). And once we win we live in the constant fear of losing what we’ve gained (“the human condition is never enough/Because after the win comes the keep…/I hope I keep her entertained/I hope I keep being funny/I hope she keeps being interested/I hope I keep my job/I hope I keep being happy/If I ever was”) as doubt takes hold and, like Sisyphus “It never ends, even when it does/It never ends”.

A journey through death, darkness and depression in search of whatever redemption that might be grasped, Yours Until The War Is Over might not be the party album of the year but it’s Kiranus’s best yet and one of the year’s too.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website:

‘Stray Dog’ – official (and rather disturbing) video:

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