Ben Allen, music editor
Less than a month into 2018, the year’s best record may have already been released.
Van Pierszalowski, aka Van William, began his musical odyssey with Port O’ Brian, an indie-pop outfit detailing his various nautical adventures as a fisherman in Alaska. Upon the band’s disintegration, he formed WATERS and forged ahead into even more accessible, pop songwriting. The last WATERS record, “What’s Real,” was a slight misstep, overproduced and stale in its songwriting, not unlike some of the more forgettable Weezer efforts.
Then it happened. Van suffered two life-changing events nearly simultaneously. A traumatic breakup occurred around the time he was completing his final fishing season in Alaska. The result is Countries, an honest, emotionally-raw and sincere recording that invites the listener on an epic voyage of inter-relational turmoil, neglect and redemption. It is a bold statement and testament to a creative genius inspired by a tragic muse.
Highlights include the first single and duet with Sweden’s First Aid Kit, “Revolution,” a folky ode to the disintegration of the aforementioned relationship. Elsewhere, “Cosmic Sign,” shines like the beacon of hope Van is desperately searching for to “make sense of this mess.” A gentle piano intro segues into a hauntingly hushed ballad of immense beauty. As cliche as it may seem, the track’s “I don’t know where I’m going, but I know where I’ve been,” perfectly summarizes the intent of its author and his feelings.
Pierszalowski’s voice has never sounded stronger, harmonic bliss achieved with undertones of pain and anguish. With titles such as “Before I Found You,” “Never Had Enough of You” and “Don’t Take My Love,” Countries feels unashamed in its intent of conveying the turmoil surrounding this breakup.
On his first solo album Van Pizernalowski illustriously demonstrates his innate gift for storytelling, understated harmonic brilliance, and songwriting. The emotionally traumatic circumstances regarding his personal life birthed a beautiful musical gift for us all to enjoy.
Rating: 11 out of 12 cans of PBR!