A voice can sell everything. Tom Waits’ twisted tales of haunted highways and street urchins don’t have the same blunt impact if they aren’t delivered in that demented howl of a voice. Justin Vernon’s lithe backwoods croon keeps his impressionistic poetry with Bon Iver from crossing over into the insufferable and emotionally indecipherable. Whitney Houston was markedly different from almost everyone of her pop music peers because of…. that voice.
Peter Oren has the sort of voice that masks everything else on a track and makes conversations around him take on a singular focus. It’s a touch like Samuel Herring’s of Future Islands but a little more relaxed and closer to the delta. On new single “Anthropocene,” he wields it to talk about our present age being marked by rot and decay and pollution that’s seemingly impossible to come back from. “How will we escape this hell?” he pointedly asks over descending acoustic guitar chords and what sounds like carefully plucked mandolin. Such an intense question takes on even more severity when delivered in that register. The way it’s framed, it sounds like Oren has already looked over the top of the trash-lined mountain and seen our end. The soulfulness of Oren’s voice offers a tinge of hope here but its somberness let’s us know that hope is rhetorical.
Peter Oren’s new album, Anthropocene, is out November 10 on Western Vinyl. It’s available for pre-order on Bandcamp.