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Papa M Highway Songs Drag City

David Pajo’s musical CV is an impressive one. Over the course of a career that’s spanned more than two decades, he’s been part of one of the most influential alternative bands of the nineties as the guitarist in Slint, recorded with the likes of Will Oldham, Royal Trux and Zwan and toured the world as a live member of Interpol and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. It’s all the more harrowing, then, that it’s been so long since the Louisville, Kentucky native made headlines for his music. Pajo made an attempt on his own life in February of 2015 and, in March of this year, suffered serious leg injuries in a motorcycle crash.

Highway Songs, his first release under his solo Papa M moniker in twelve years, arrives at the end of the most turbulent period of Pajo’s life. If it’s true that great art arises from adversity, then this should be one hell of an album. It certainly seems as if he’s been freed from convention at the very least. This is a wildly experimental set of tracks, largely instrumental and swinging from the freewheeling heavy guitars of Green Holler to the choppy electronica of The Love Particle. An unsettling atmosphere pervades throughout, although of course that’s something that Pajo has dealt in ever since Slint’s seminal album Spiderland. There’s plenty of nods to Slint here, in fact, particularly in the low-mixed spoken word vocals on closer Little Girl. Some ideas work better than others – you could mistake the acoustic guitar piece Dlvd for somebody tuning up – but as uncomfortable a listen as Highway Songs often is, it contains more than enough evidence to suggest the world nearly lost a singular talent, twice, in these last eighteen months.