Elvis Perkins

Ash Wednesday (XL/Beggars)

May 2, 2007 at 4:00 am
Debut albums from the sons of famous parents shouldn't be this good, this original. Fame and tragedy haunt Elvis Perkins' story: His father, Anthony Perkins, died from an AIDS-related illness; his mother, the photographer Berry Benson, was aboard the plane that hit the North Tower on 9/11. But Perkins' will and imagination more than merely exorcise ghosts; he transmutes and owns them. His band — woody drums, gypsy violins, bowed bass, and borrowed trumpets and vibes — will begin a tune reluctantly, then gather the force of a Gil Evans Orchestra. And his words spill like sparks from a torch: "I tossed and turned/Till I closed my eyes," Perkins sings on the startling, surrealist opening track. "But the future burned through/The planet turned a hair gray/As I relived the day." Perkins' voice has force too, less a warble or croak than a distended cry, the sound of someone emerging from drowsy opiates and discovering the waking world is more beautiful and strange than reveries. He knows Dylan, Cohen and Buckley Sr. well enough to know that mimicking their moves would be self-defeating. So Perkins tempers bohemian visions with resonant Catholicism, unpredictable sensuality — and many, many quiet apocalypses of the heart.