With songs that explore life’s murky corners and shadowy characters, Ben de la Cour’s music occupies the intersection between gothic Americana and dark, gritty folk. It’s a sound fueled by the stories and struggles of its creator, a lifelong searcher who’s never been afraid to shine a light on his own demons. That darkness takes on new dimensions with his fifth record, Sweet Anhedonia, a gripping collection of Americana noir soundscapes haunted by crooked folk ballads, scorched-earth heartland rockers and even the occasional ode to love, hope and redemption. Bouncing between first-person narratives and sharply-written character studies, these songs radiate a bruised, battered energy, with Ben delivering each one in a voice that’s textured by years of hard touring and even harder living.
Sweet Anhedonia makes room for acoustic fingerpicking, electric amplification and a host of bizarre and evocative soundscapes, casting Ben de la Cour’s stories against backdrops of sinister roots music (“Appalachian Book of the Dead”), Springsteen-sized heartland rock (“Suicide of Town”), moody minimalism (“Maricopa County”), and orchestral, cinematic bombast (“Shine on the Highway”). With “Numbers Game,” a song that weighs the resilience of the human spirit against the gravity of human suffering, he even writes from a female’s perspective, duetting with fellow East Nashville resident and close friend Becky Warren over arpeggiated guitar and bowed fiddle. Like all of Sweet Anhedonia, the song’s textures are rough-edged and lovingly pockmarked, emphasizing authentic performances over well-scrubbed perfection. It’s a setting that suits Ben’s writing well, with the songwriter subtly nodding to his influences — including Townes Van Zandt, Nick Cave, and authors Raymond Carver and Toni Morrison — while creating something starkly singular.
Sweet Anhedonia unfolds like a soundtrack for the resilient, the run-down, and the battle-scarred among us, its various vignettes glued together by a man who’s logged years on a battlefield of his own making. A leading light of folk music’s underground, Ben de la Cour has kept his songwriting sharp while charting his own murky path towards redemption over the past decade. Sweet Anhedonia marks the latest chapter in a story that continues to unfold. It’s Ben at his narrative, nuanced best, delivering songs that seethe one minute and soothe the next.