3 out of 5
Label: Too Pure
Produced by: Steve Albini
I went through listening cycles with much of Scout Niblett’s discography. Even her first Secretly Canadian album, which was – at the time – a little bit too “singer songwriter” for my preferences – was spun frequently enough to nestle its way into memory. But I somehow skipped out on This Fool Can Die Now. I couldn’t have said why upon release, as it surely continued forward with the artist’s evolving sense of self, and experimentation with styles, but now with a couple followup albums in the rearview, it’s much clearer: this disc is the shift from a more youthful, angsty persona into one more comfortable and at home with their weirdness; it’s a scattershot collection of songs which don’t quite sit well together, and don’t always find their ways from clear beginnings to clear endings. Song-by-song, brilliance emerges: Scout’s pairing with Will Oldham on several traditionals provides a calming and emotive framework for the disc; Dinosaur Egg and a few others prove the artist’s sharp sense of whimsy and poignancy via that whimsy are intact; and Scout continues with her appreciation for rocking the fuck out on occasion, with tracks that are even sharper in this regard than previous efforts.
It sounds fantastic, with Albini again at the helm, letting tones ring out and not rushing the tracks. But when you stick it all together, it’s fitful; it does not flow. Those Oldham tracks massively stick out when followed by a drum-and-Scout-chanting song; the rockers are very structured and post-rock by comparison, also sticking out; and, as mentioned, there’s an odd lack of conclusion here – like Niblett wasn’t even sure what the scope of the album was, and let her thoughts drift instead of drafting endings. At a stretch, I’d even point to the album art as different compared to the rest of Scout’s catalogue: not the broken camera blurs of what came before, or the direct black and white pieces of what would follow.
Giving the album some more time, I can certainly appreciate the highlights that are here, and it’s a required link in the chain of Scout’s discography. But I do also get why it hasn’t been a frequent relisten to me, as those highlights tend to appear in clearer forms on other albums, though that same unevenness does make This Fool Can Die Now an interesting listen in its own right.