My Entire Life
My Entire Life is the fifth album for the Americana outfit, SUSTO and the first time we have covered them on these pages. The 12-song set was produced by Wolfgang Zimmerman (Band of Horses), Justin Osborne and Johnny Delaware, three of the band’s principals. My Entire Life follows their critically acclaimed 2021 album Time in the Sun. The band hails from Charleston, South Carolina. The name of the band is from the Spanish word “susto”, meaning “an intense fear understood as a condition of the soul”, reflecting the Cuban roots of some of the band, as well as being drawn from letters in the band leader’s name. That bandleader is the aforementioned Osborne, who along with co-founders Delaware and Marshall Hudson, longtime producer Zimmerman and co-writer Caroline Foyle form the core of unit that boasts as many as eleven in the credits. Osborne penned every song, usually collaborating with some combination of the four listed above.
Thematically the songs capture a tumultuous journey involving a divorce, re-building his band after the pandemic, and the pain and helplessness of witnessing family members struggle with addiction and mental illness, somehow not only persevering through the mayhem but emerging on the other side with newfound hope. The band, through the use of multiple guitars and background vocals, delivers an infectious blend of rock, folk, and psychedelia, the latter buoyed by a “recording pilgrimage” to the Mexican town of Tepotzlán (mythical birthplace of Mesoamerican deity Quetzalcoatl), where they turned an Airbnb into a remote recording studio, with help from members of Mexican Institute of Sound. This is only one small aspect of the recording process however, as they also laid down elements of the album in three other studios – The Space, in Charleston, SC, Mountain Recording in Asheville, NC, and Chase Park Transduction in Athens, GA.
SUSTO kicks off with the prevailing theme, “Rock On” with its chorus playing to blazing guitars – “I woke up in a motel/spent all day in a van/Showed up late & they meet me at the gate/Sayin’ who are you playin’ with man/I got stoned in the mornin’/I start chasin’ lines/I’ll tell you truth I got the microphone blues but I give it to ‘em every night/You gotta rock on.” Offbeat imagery such as “tangled up in seaweed” imbues the jagged “Mermaid Vampire,” perhaps about a relationship gone bad while he then describes the newer, uplifting partnership in the majestic standout “Mt. Caroline.” With only one track exceeding four minutes, Osborne masters the succinct power of the hook-filled two-three minute variety. Yet, the mood shifts dramatically in the haunting “Tina,” chronicling a conversation with his mother about his two brothers battling addiction. The title track offers a smooth, melancholy melody with bright vocals that keep building, lifted by the bliss of a budding relationship.
Osborne has a knack for drawing one in immediately with opening lyrics such as “I saw the world fall into the sea/From the passenger side of a car” that opens the four-minute track “Optimum Artist,” yet it, like so many, evolves into a brimming ode to love, this one imbued by Foyle’s lovely harmonies. “Cowboys” reads like a heartfelt letter to a restless comrade show needs some reassurance in a blend of acoustic/electric guitars and ever-present lush harmonies. It’s tempting to link the stream of consciousness lyrics in “Hyperbolic Jesus” to Osborne’s rebellion against his strict Christian upbringing. Nonetheless the opening line is indelible – “She says she don’t believe in Jesus/But she thinks he’s a pretty good guy.” The acoustically picked “Double Stripe” with banjo sprinkled in is the most overtly folk song in the set while in similar vein with some deft picking from Delaware “Rooster” speaks to wistful yearning for to be stoic and hold one head’s high after a breakup – “You can’t put it all back in the bottle/So you better let go.”
The breakup theme continues in the rocking “Tragic Kingdom” with Osborne using autumn metaphors to describe a decaying love while emphasizing the most powerful image in the song – “tears on your birthday cake.” Never quite knowing where the band is going next, instead of a grandiose closer, we get a more existential rumination on life in the mid-tempo “Break Free, Rolling Stone” as Osborne’s voice takes on a deep, resonant quality not found on the other tracks. It all adds to engaging listening. It may take some stamina to wade through the oft twisted lyrics, but the hooks and the harmonies will sustain you.
- Jim Hynes