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Album Review: The World Is Just a Shape to Fill the Night by Case Studies
Fairly Good, Based on 4 Critics
Pitchfork - 73 Based on rating 7.3/10
What sets The World Is Just a Shape to Fill the Night apart from a lot of what gets called "folk" these days is that it is fiercely unsentimental. But if you gaze back a little further, Jesse Lortz's obsession with pistols, poisons, drownings, and all-consuming spiritual darkness is part of a great tradition; the Anthology of American Folk Music has a notoriously high body count. Even though nobody dies during The Night, it flickers with a constant barrage of unsettling images: knives being sharpened on hearts, blood mixing with saliva mid-kiss, and an address to a lover that begins, "You lifted up your skirt and took a piss right in the street/ You shook it off your thigh and your eyes said, 'I know you're watching.
Jesse Lortz's follow-up project to the Dutchess and the Duke found him going solo and generally starker as Case Studies; if The World Is Just a Shape to Fill the Night came out in a year when it seemed like there were even more sensitive folkie records than ever before, it also succeeds more than most of its contemporaries by virtue of its differing reference points. Instead of sweetness and general summer afternoon blissfulness, Lortz's lyrical and singing voice, partly drawing on his own unsettled personal situation at the time, emphasizes pronouncement and a darker mood, something not too far removed from Lee Hazlewood on the one hand -- at a remove, admittedly -- and Michael Gira on the other, perhaps more in his early Angels of Light mode. Either figure would have suited a song like "Texas Ghost Story" (not to mention its counterpart "California Ghost Story"), but the conversational storytelling Lortz employs draws on any number of sources, enjoyably if not yet uniquely synthesized.
Jesse Lortz, singer from Dutchess and the Duke, steps out into new, solitary territory with his new solo project, Case Studies. The World Is Just a Shape to Fill the Night is as isolated and dark as its title implies, with Lortz laying his sweet groan over spare and deathly folk tunes. There are other players on here, who weave in spare percussion and other flourishes like the low guitar on “Lies” or the keening violin on “My Silver Hand”.
Why exactly Jesse Lortz has abandoned the success of his jumpy boy/girl indie folk duo, The Dutchess and the Duke, to record an album of modest, lo-fi acoustic guitar ballads is unclear; it certainly seems like a step down. He’s not only slowed things down, but he’s grown lower-pitched and more intimate, while at times drawing further upon his country influences. He has stories to tell; this is the sound of Lortz getting serious.