Recording information: Velvetone Music Studios, Los Angeles, CA.
Photographer: Alaska Reid.
Highway Songs is former Slint guitarist David Pajo's return to making music under the Papa M moniker since the mid-2000s. A lot has happened in his life since then. Slint went on multiple reunion tours, Pajo recorded three solo albums under his surname (including Misfits cover album Scream with Me), and he briefly joined the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Interpol as a touring member. In more personal matters, he survived a suicide attempt in early 2015, and in 2016, he nearly lost one of his feet in a motorcycle accident. Thanks to an outpouring of support from friends, family, and fans, he continued making new music. Highway Songs is brief, clocking in at less than half-an-hour, but its nine tracks are wildly diverse, reflecting multiple aspects of Pajo's persona. In terms of other Papa M releases, it's closer to the eclectic 2004 rarities collection Hole of Burning Alms (albeit nowhere near as long) rather than the post-rock of 1999's Live from a Shark Cage or the Will Oldham-like indie folk of 2001's Whatever, Mortal or many of his EPs. A few tracks on Highway Songs delve into Sabbath-inspired metal or grunge, with thundering riffs, battering drums, and hair-raising feedback. These songs could possibly be perceived as his version of music fit for a biker gang, possibly in relation to his motorcycle accident. "The Love Particle" is a chaotic electronic experiment, with flanged backwards guitar melodies peering out from underneath waves of frazzled glitches and static. On a few occasions, all of this pauses and a little girl whispers "I love you, daddy." A blipping, swirling drum machine anchors "Adore, A Jar," but this time the guitars are much smoother and more upfront. Following two brief, atmospheric guitar pieces, "Walking on Coronado" is a bright, bittersweet, soundtrack-ready tune with chiming guitars and snapping drum machine beats. The album ends with an arrangement of traditional folk tune "Little Girl," and it's the only song on the album with lyrics. Pajo's dusky, nearly Leonard Cohen-esque voice croons "teach me to laugh again" over dazzling guitar shredding and acoustic strumming. Highway Songs encapsulates Pajo's life experiences into a poignant travelog, and considering all that he's been through, it's a life-affirming work. ~ Paul Simpson