When Jesse Lortz and Kimberly Morrison formed their duo, the Dutchess and the Duke, four years ago, they took the underground trip-hop scene by surprise…mainly due to the new project not involving trip-hop in the slightest. As members of the previous experimental underground sensation, the Flying Dutchman, the pair were expected to screw around with computers and mind-blurring beats for a straight hour while Morrison took the lead (as she did before). But that wasn’t the case with the Dutchess and the Duke. Instead, the two put out terrific back-to-back folk albums between 2008-09 that spewed from the vein of the early-1960s grit-folk movement and gained high praise for such enormous evolvement.
Now, nearly two years after their disbandment, Lortz has gone out on his own with Case Studies, a project that follows in the acoustic tradition of D&D but creeps closer than ever into the darkest and saddest corners of any work he’s ever produced. (For those familiar with Lortz, yeah; it’s that bad.) Backed with minimal orchestration and a female singer, he revisits the themes of lost love and hunger for companionship but adds a slight touch (did I say “slight?” I meant heavy as all hell) of depression at which Ernest Hemingway could potentially weep. ”Are the strangers that you find sleeping next to you just shadows of your own self-indulgent mind?” Lortz asks his lover on “The Eagle, or the Serpent,” and to boot, on “Daggers” he sings in his most eloquent Leonard Cohen impression,” “I sing these words to the ones who have something to hide/ Don’t ever tell the truth to the world.” And you thought the title of the album gave you a good idea of how black this could get, right?
Looking back on only the few years ago when the Flying Dutchman pumped percussion-heavy sound waves for ecstasy-bent ravers, it’s astonishing that Case Studies is a project of Jesse Lortz. The World Is Just a Shape To Fill the Night is one of the most dreary yet powerful albums to arrive in indie rock since Elliot Smith’s From a Basement on a Hill. It’s haunting lyrics emote the honest lamentations of a man struggling to be honest with himself. But beyond being a record of profound songwriting, Case Studies’ debut deserves acclaim for one undeniable reason: it’s ability to incite listeners’ souls and speak directly to and from the heart, even if that heart is on its last beat.
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