I was wary about Alexander "Skip" Spence's Oar, wary of the gawking that attends doomed or different outsiders -- Syd Barrett, Daniel Johnston, Nick Drake, Jandek ... the list goes on, with varying levels of deserved and undeserved notoriety for the objects of attention, and difficulty in separating the songs from the backstories. With its sparse instrumentation drenched in reverb and echo, Oar does sound claustrophobic and haunted, nothing like Spence's contributions to Moby Grape's first album -- songs that rock hard and pull five ways at once. (Unfortunately I have the airbrushed version of the cover's infamous one-finger salute, classic rock's own Billy Ripken "fuck face" card.)
But despite / because of the sonic limitations of Oar, Spence's solo document after being released from New York's Bellevue hospital, these songs go deep. "War in Peace" seems to take lurching steps, but every one of them falls where it needs to go, and Spence's falsetto kills. "Grey / Afro" is a prayer chant backed by a sporadically plucked bass line, phased-out drums and little else -- and that's just enough.