Before I start this album review I just want to make sure that we clear any conflicts of interest; I distributed this record through my “label”, but I made the label for my band and decided to also release my buddy Brian James Hoffman. Did I do it cause he’s my buddy? Totes. That being said, I’ve always been a fan of Brian’s lyricism and the way he conveys a constant dull ache of existing in a space that doesn’t feel right. Fool’s Gold is only the latest release from Hoffman who has been releasing midwestern sad-dad folk rock for almost a decade.
The opening track “Nothing Left to Say” lilts in with soft strums of acoustic guitar. Hoffman’s voice croaks over the treble of the plucked high strings. As we join Brian in this verse, he laments, “If a man’s worth what’s in his pocket today I ain’t worth a fuckin’ dime” and the chorus is ushered in with an echolalic satisfying, “I always keep talking long after there’s nothing left to say.” Before the verse brings us back to unabated anxiety in lines like “nothing hurts more than the truth that I’m never gonna mean that much to you.”
“Fool’s Gold” is the thematic center, this is an album of steady acoustic guitar and painful memories. “Don’t give me no fool’s gold, don’t try to save my soul” is poignant from an artist who is from the middle of nowhere in South Dakota. There’s no shortage of people trying to “save” you in that area and so little actual help to found. “As I see these lines growing on our faces and I thought by now I would understand” shows the desperation of growing old without actually growing at all.
Out of Sight and Apathetic are two songs in Brian’s repertoire that always seem to find new meaning in each iteration. I remember these tracks from an album Hoffman released in 2016, Lessons in Losing, but the new recordings of them seem even more sparse, highlighting Brian’s trodden soul, “I’m tired of reaching out for feelings I don’t have, another day goes by and here I stand, I’m tired of getting walked all over on.”
One of the newer tracks that Hoffman includes in this collection of songs, Crumpled Up Poem, almost caps the record off with positivity. Sadly, when you’re a #sadboi like myself and my friend Brian, the closest we get to happiness is just nostalgia for a better time. The same pain that makes us aging punks feel like we might have a few years left in us, “these tattered spiral notebooks show my history and who I am, and a lot of parts are in pencil but some parts are in pen and there’s still another empty page waiting to be written.”
A cover of “Mama Tried” is the true ending to this album, and can’t we all relate to disappointing our mothers? I won’t presume to know how this album was recorded, it’s definitely a raw sound, a few P-pops, some inconsistent volume between songs, but as a whole I think the production of this album helps serve the emotion behind it. If we had the energy to be perfect we wouldn’t be who we are, right?
I think of Fool’s Gold as similar to the element that it’s named after; Brian James Hoffman may not be a gilded shiny star, but he’s trying to find his worth and that’s worth more than gold.