“In time the curtain-edges will grow light.” English poet Philip Larkin wrote that line in a poem in 1977 called “Aubade” (a song of dawn), which shares a name with Elvis Perkins’ upcoming 13-song release, I Aubade, due out on February 24th. Within it’s 50 verses, Larkin confronts the inevitability of death and the way we try to convince ourselves that we can’t hear it’s tolling for us. But in Perkins’ new song, the poetically beautiful, “I Came For Fire”, the singer is as much concerned with life and light as death. In 2007, Perkins’ debut record Ash Wednesday, featured five songs written after the death of his mother, photographer Berry Bersenson, who died on board American Airlines Flight 11 in the Sept. 11 attacks.
As one can imagine (if that’s even possible), that tragedy inspired the raw and sorrowful outlook of part of that album, including these crushingly exquisite lyrics from the title track: “No one will survive / Ash Wednesday alive / No soldier / No lover / No father, no mother.” There was a striking and moving pallor toward the latter half of the record that Perkins tried to move away from on his highly successful sophomore release, Elvis Perkins in Dearland (2009). But death and heartbreak occasionally found its place there too.
That record led to the sublime Dylan-esque single “Shampoo”. No doubt the song has a certain kind of darkness to it, but it’s also burnished with a kind of romance and black humor. I can’t even count how many times I re-cued and sung aloud to these marvelous verses: “I don’t want to die / However dark tomorrow may be / Bought me a perfect square of sky / You are worth your weight in gold / You are worth your weight in sorrow, baby.”
Perkins is revisiting sadness here, but from a different perspective, going back to the way he recorded music when he first began with just a four track and his solitary thoughts. “I Came For Fire” is just Perkins and guitar, whispered vocal harmonizing, eerie effects from a harp, wind, flute, and what sounds like the inner rustlings of a forest. The new song hinges on a gorgeously-written interrogative: “Just one second, before we end / Back to the start, return again … / I came for the fire / If I go out, will I come back again?” It’s heartbreaking, even touching on imagery similar to that of Larkin, with its curtains and silence. “I Came For Fire” is a song written by a graceful artist who can’t help being anything but discerning. It’s no wonder he uses the word “aubade” (which is usually a noun) as an adjective. It signals being in the process of. Music is Perkins’ personal chiaroscuro, sifting light from dark, and life and love from mortality. You can hear “I Came For Fire” at this soundcloud link. Follow Perkins on twitter and facebook. Note: All lyrics are unofficial. — David D. Robbins Jr.