Craig Perry’s Himself
by Edward Patrick Huycke
“Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead.”
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Joyce, 1916
A wordless bildungsroman, Craig Perry’s Himself deftly handles the age-old subject of growing up with honesty and calm. Its effect equals to that of a great novel, both intimate and universal. The majestic arpeggios, turbulent strum patterns, and glimmering harmonics blend seamlessly together, showing us our own lives through the new lens. Unescapist, never intoxicating, it effortlessly juggles melancholy and joy, depicting fear and hope simultaneously. The revelation of Perry’s album is the essential balance between dark and light that every person yearns to achieve.
The first of Himself’s three suites, ‘Of Thin Air,’ begins the album with a listless combination of uncertain lows and glimmering highs, an estimation of birth and childhood without nostalgic varnish. From a lonesome and hungry darkness a consciousness emerges, humbled by a vision of the outer world twinkling with high melody and harmonics as brooding bass lines drag back and forth. ‘Of Thin Air’ establishes the album’s central conflict: reconciliation of within and without.
Consciousness against ignorance, sensation versus mystery, produces energy. This energy is the focus of Himself’s second suite, ‘Roots Unraveling.’ As every person must grapple with the energy of their own sentience, the music itself begins to search for a more distinct shape. Like an adolescent navigating the daily epiphanies of maturation, ‘Roots Unraveling’ explores pure catharsis (“Homage to Soft Machine”) and organization (“Metre”) before settling into “Sueños,” a dreamlike reverie like the one we experienced at that sweet junction between adolescence and true adulthood, in which we’d found the devices of other men to deal with life. In the haze of self-certainty that follows philosophy, occupation, religion, friendship and love, we thought we had found our answers, forcing life into a crystal dream as delicate as Perry’s lullaby, and just as poised to be shattered.
Here beings the final suite, ‘Grant the Serenity.’ Its first section is named after the novelist who wrote the line “I was prepared to love the whole world. . . I learned to hate.” “Lermontov” shatters the false calm that ‘Roots Unraveled’ ended on, and thrusts the listener into an emotionally uncertain barrage of sonic change. From here, the nameless hero of Himself must make his/her own way. It is in this final section that the album’s central dialectic, the flux between pain and joy, is made explicit. We are no longer allowed false notions about the nature of the world, and must accept it as it comes to us, not as we would like it to.
Finally we reach “Atlantis [Improviso],” a song standing alone from the three previous suites, but itself broken into three sections: a) Atlantis, embracing the thematic spectrum of the whole album with grace, beauty, and most of all, humility; b) a minute or so of silence, as if Perry himself, the musician, is accepting the absence of his own gift; and c) Improviso, a brief and unassuming improvisation. After all the thematic discipline the album holds itself to, Himself ends with two minutes of improvised classical guitar that simply exists free of ends, means, or expectation. It is the perfect epilogue to a piece of music so profoundly concerned with identity and acceptance.