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“The most uniquely talented musician since Kurt Cobain... an absolute genius.”
-Alan McGee, Creation Records founder, The Guardian.
“One of those people you can’t help but liking, because he’s so DIY and down to earth even though he’s got a tremendous talent.”
-Tony Wilson, Factory Records, founder, Channel 4.
“We ended up on the road together for two and a half months straight. It was the first big tour I’d ever done. He taught me how to do it.”
-John McCauley , Deer Tick frontman, Werewolves Across America.
Viking Moses announces his fifth album, Cruel Child, out Friday, April 5, 2019 on Epifo Music, a new video, and an international tour.
Nearly 13 years since his proper debut as Viking Moses, Baltimore musician Brendon Massei is slated to release his fifth album, Cruel Child. As one would expect from someone who is noted for having consistently toured since 1993, Cruel Child offers a dozen dusty and deep and wistful explorations of the soul, written in such a manner they could only have come from a master traveler of dark and imposing paths both literal and philosophical.
Yet in darkness, light; it would be wrong to fully assume that Cruel Child is an album that wallows in its misery. Yes, Massei sings with a deep and haunted voice reminiscent of Mark Lanegan, Will Oldham, and David Eugene Edwards, but like those masters, Massei is adept at hiding beautiful, tender, and positive messages that are shrouded in mystery and melancholy. The power of devotion to love can be found in the swampy gospel grunge of “Let The Trouble Pass,” the slow jam R&B rhythm of “Killing Kind” builds upon the tension of impatience, and the desolate power of bleak country emboldens the unfolding beauty of love in the one-two knockout album-closing punch of “A World So Full Of Love” and “Take Tender,” both of which are astonishingly beautiful love songs presented in a heartbreaking arrangement not seen since Townes Van Zandt.
Cruel Child is an album of dark sounds, to be sure; it is a beautiful darkness, though--one that should not be feared, but embraced. It is an album that unfolds itself slowly; its foreboding and lonely trails growing lighter on subsequent listens, revealing hidden beauty and truth with every visit.
Cruel Child is a collection of dark, raw pop songs. The title track opens with a lyrical confession: “I’m a cruel child for reminding my poor mother of my father every time she sees my face.” The hook comes off half-jokingly, “I don’t want to grow up in a world that will never be the same”, like the nostalgic Toys ‘R’ Us jingle, a bittersweet sentiment that the plagued retail giant may feel hits a little too close to home. But in Massei’s world, a song that begins with a pensive lament, bursts into an uplifting nylon-string guitar melody, reminiscent of Willie Nelson’s Red-Headed Stranger.
Massei’s playful melodies coax listeners into a lyrical honeytrap of taboo, criminality, and despair. “Take splendor from the corner where you wait, take calm from the horror, take little while you follow in your faith, take tender for the daughter,” Massei pleas in “Take Tender”, an homage to the courage of Sadiqa and Kuyum, a young couple who were publicly stoned to death in Kuduz, Afganistan in 2011 for adultery. Massei manages to hone optimistic love songs from what would seem an otherwise unloving world.
Cruel Child was recorded throughout Massei’s travels, using two large-diaphragm condenser microphones that he kept in his backpack. Massei focused on room ambiance and microphone placement technique while recording. By foregoing artificial effects and plug-ins used by many of his contemporaries, Massei accentuates natural space, while distant organs, pulsing guitar, and bone-dry vocals amplify the emotional tension with raw electric current.
Among the album’s personnel are guest-producers Hunter Davidsohn (Porches, Frankie Cosmos, Sheer Mag) and Kris Poulin (Ryan Adams, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Smog). Spencer Kingman (Spenking, Dirty Projectors) returns with his soaring tenor vocal and four-limbed organ work. Otto Hauser (War On Drugs, Sharon Van Etten, Vetiver, etc.) appears as a vocalist, Chris Marine (Phosphorescent) sits in on drums, and Andy Abelow (Future Islands alter ego The Snails) tickles the synths.
Emerging songwriters Sam Goodwill of Youngstown, Ohio and Liz Vayda of Baltimore also make featured appearances. Massei has a long history of giving breaks to upstarts, most notably bringing John McCauley (Deer Tick), Jana Hunter (Lower Dens), and Scout Niblett on their first tours. Massei has since founded Epifo Music, a hands-on artist development firm whose recent releases have included Jesse Ainslie (Phosporescent, Castanets), Adrian Aardvark, and Scotland’s rising star, Hamish Hawk.
Massei's tour warrior antics have drawn him attention, including a 2011 feature-length documentary Werewolves Across America (Pulse Films / Vice Media) about his life and influence on independent music culture.
In 2012, the song "Dancing by the Water Day", from Viking Moses’s debut album Crosses was featured in the BAFTA winning film Kelly + Victor. Later that year, Malcolm Middleton (Arab Strap), Devendra Banhart, Rebecca Taylor (Slow Club / Self Esteem) Adrian Crowley, Castanets, and others contributed cover versions of Massei’s original songs for Lucky Numbers: A Tribute To Viking Moses (Burst & Bloom Records).
In 2014, Massei was invited by the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou to perform and speak about American independent music culture throughout China, including the TEDx stage in Fuzhou. Outside of performing original music as Viking Moses and managing artists via Epifo Music, Massei serves as a mentor with nongovernment organizations in international leadership programs that address complex economic, environmental, political, and social challenges.
Viking Moses will play select dates across North America and Europe this fall in support of Cruel Child.