I'm going to rip this Band-Aid right off... back when I first was introduced to singer-songwriter James Caronna I didn't think very highly of him at all. I thought his work was unoriginal, uninspiring, and just in general not worth bothering with; "Brand X Daniel Powter" was my comparison.
Still, I was a baby journo, and I tried to delve into it without hurting his feelings because I was still in a phase where I wanted everyone to like me.
Many years down the road for the both of us in our respective paths, I have no problem saying that Everybody Wants to Be In Love was crap. It was, but that doesn't matter now because Caronna is now on a journey that is wonderful to behold. He's born again, and this time it's a thing of absolute beauty. "The Devil Made a Home," the song, the album, and the music video show a true artist on the ascent. He's Trent Reznor shedding that weird boy band. He's Tori learning to read. He's just fantastic.
The story behind his new stripped-down and highly personal sound is a good one.
"I mentally said, 'Fuck it!" Caronna says via email. "I no longer let other people dictate the content of my art. The church was doing that to me, I left them wrote for two years and the album is what I came up with.
"A lot of it is about leaving the church," he adds. "The next one will be a little harsher of the church and Republicans. The phrase [The devil made a home] is the analogy I came up with to describe me leaving the church. There's a lot there but that's the simple explanation."
In order to bring this new, bitter but beautiful brand of song to visual to life Caronna got himself two friends, Neil Sandoz and Hunter Lawrence, and shot a desolate journey through Taylor, Texas, near Austin. On the surface it's not so much, just a man walking and driving for the most part, but Sandoz's direction and shots are agonizingly sculpted across Caronna's sad desperation as he prepares to sever his ties with the past.
We see him as he prepares a package and drives off from a shitty little room in a shitty little town. All around him the buildings, roads, and people scream "home," but they also scream "dead." It's a kind of ultraconservative mind-fuck of a place; not conservative in a political sense, but meaning that every aspect of any change must be carefully considered before ultimately rejected.
Caronna is a the only figure moving at normal speed in a world of slo-mo, and he makes it incredibly clear in his performance in the video that every step he takes in this world hurts him.
The song itself is wonderful, with an easy style that makes it feel so much more real than his first outing. Caronna recorded the track in a single take with nothing but himself, a hand drummer, and an engineer. It just flows out of him and into this empty vision of the world. There may be no more sincere song in all of Houston.
Eventually, Caronna in the video ends up where honestly everyone would expect; out in the woods with a shovel. He opens the box he's been carrying the whole time, a symbol of the burdens on his soul. It's full of pictures from his former church and of people who have abandoned him. He dumps them into a whole in the ground as night falls, and sets the whole thing ablaze.
Let me be clear on something... "The Devil Made of Home" is not in any way original as a video. It's predictable, it's frankly a bit too long, and if you didn't know the backstory I just told you then it probably wouldn't be that interesting. It's certainly not a cinemaudio accomplishment like Featherface's "I Saw You Dancing" or The Manichean's "Leopards."
But once you have that image in your head of Caronna cut adrift from a previous life, seeking his redemption outside of an oppressive, small-minded, and toxic jail of the soul the video becomes utterly fascinating. It's as raw as the whipped back of Christ, a sweet as the grave. I love what James Caronna has become as an artist no. Sorry the path was so full of thorns, but man, dig the city of gold it led to. Check out the video above.
James Caronna plays tonight at Dean's with Your Amsterdam, The Snow Indian, and Letters to Voltron.