John Grant's songs don't mess around: The music isn't complicated, while the lyrics function as darts of retort and thought. His album Pale Green Ghosts is decorated with synthesizers, his voice often drenched in reverb; those tools and textures help make the record strong and everlasting. So when Grant came to the Tiny Desk with just an acoustic guitarist — and wanted to play piano himself — I feared that the power of the songs I'd come to love wouldn't translate amid such bare sounds. I was wrong, and his music was just right. The lyrics rush forward and hit hard. Try this line from the first song he performs, "Where Dreams Go to Die":
Baby, you're where dreams go to die I regret the day your lovely carcass caught my eye
Grant is known to some as the singer from the Denver band The Czars, but these days he lives in Iceland. He recently helped translate the best-selling Icelandic album from Ásgeir Trausti into English. Pale Green Ghosts is his second album on his own, though he did have help from the band Midlake when he recorded Queen of Denmark in 2010. The two solo records and much of his writings are deeply personal, touching on his sexuality and his battles with drugs and alcohol. Stripped to its core, this material gets even stronger — and here's proof.
"Where Dreams Go To Die"
"It Doesn't Matter To Him"
Producers: Bob Boilen, Denise DeBelius; Audio Engineer: Kevin Wait; Videographers: Denise DeBelius, Olivia Merrion; Production Assistant: Alex Schelldorf; photo by Alex Schelldorf/NPR
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