The Love Songs of Oedipus Rex is one mother of a concept album.
I’m a firm believer in the Power of Three, in that good and bad things always seem to happen grouped in triplicates. Something tells me I’d be hard-pressed to convince Benjamin Hackman, front-person for Toronto’s Holy Gasp, of any kind of silver lining after his father’s death followed by the sudden death of his therapist all while Hackman and his wife were in the midst of a divorce. Suffering enough trauma and loss for three lifetimes in such short order, Hackman retreated from society and from himself, moved to an artist residency on Toronto Island and poured himself into music. The Love Songs of Oedipus Rex comes out of that time on the island. It’s one part therapeutic exercise, one part necessary exorcism, and a full-on celebration of the dexterity and determination of the human spirit.
The Holy Gasp’s M.O. remains the mercurial mix of beat poetry, jazz, surf rock, psychedelic pop, and DIY punk they debuted with 2015’s The Last Generation of Love, but The Love Songs of Oedipus Rex ups the ante tenfold. Itis a mother of a concept album, employing a chorus of musicians to flesh out Hackman’s expansive and exhaustive multi-part compositions. Singing in a deep and often times foreboding baritone, Hackman plays both narrator and lead on the album’s lyrical journey through the rawest of emotions.
On its surface, “A Black Elevator” reads like a synopsis of Sophocles’s Theban plays, but against the context of Hackman’s personal experiences, resonates like scream therapy, as if deeply buried, subconscious grief has come rushing to the surface. “What I Gotta Know Right Now” is a rollicking rockabilly gem of a song that directly addresses Hackman’s ex, bluntly stating his side of the story and asking for answers that don’t appear forthcoming (“Baby, I put a shiny ring around your finger— / I never tied no noose around your life! / I don’t mind if you have space for other people, / Just be clear with me if that still makes you my wife.”).
The melancholy swing of “Simple Pleasures” is a pure delight, bolstered by bluesy organ punches, wicked horns, and Hackman’s tour de force vocal delivery. The man can sing the drink right out a drunk and reduce gangsters to tears. The cabaret caricature of “A Division of Assets” belies a deeper truth: the playfulness of Hackman’s punchy singing is delightful until you realize that it’s likely a defence mechanism to protect him from the frankness of what he’s singing about.
And therein lies the aforementioned silver lining for Hackman’s personal travails: from the most painful and precarious of predicaments, The Love Songs of Oedipus Rex rises as a creative masterpiece. The album will not change the past, but it suggests a future full of healing, reconciliation, and continued creativity for Benjamin Hackman. Hopefully, writing, recording, and releasing the record has been as cathartic for its creator as it is for the listener to experience.