When Darius Koski released his debut solo album, Sisu, on Fat Wreck Chords a couple of years ago, I remember thinking that even though it was the longtime Swingin’ Utters and Filthy Thieving Bastards guitarist and principle songwriter’s first album under his own name, it nevertheless seemed like it was a quintessentially “Darius Koski” album, full of the sort of neo-folk/Americana rooted non-traditional punk rock left turns that made the Utters and the Bastards unique in their own regards. It was solid, and different from the Utters for sure, but not THAT different to leave people confused.
What Was Once Is By And Gone, released last Friday (November 3rd, also on Fat), pushes the genre-bending theme to newer and bolder and more diverse levels. Sure there are still some Americana-based elements that would have fit nicely on Sisu; album-opener “Black Sheep” and the slow burning “Old Bones,” for example. That fact that stands to reason given that like on his debut album, the bulk of What Was Once Is By And Gone was culled from two decades of songs and song ideas Koski had in the bank. There are a handful of tracks like “Yes I Believe” and “The Observer” that seem to pay direct homage to the uptempo chugging, reverb-heavy rockabilly freight train that Johnny Cash perfected a half-century ago.
But then, of course, there are the more conceptual pieces that make What Was Once Is By And Gone not only stand apart from Sisu, but truly shine in its own right. “Imitation Tala” has has an acoustic backbone that, combined with Koski’s subdued drone, give the track a “world music” feel that reminds me of the band Three Fish, itself a side project for Pearl Jam’s Jeff Ament a couple decades ago. “Stay With Me” and it’s whistle-driven melody evokes a sort of melodramatic cowboy waltz. “Another Man” might be the most straight-forward, Tim Barry-esque acoustic songwriter track that cuts deeply in its emotionally honest tale of introspection and self-doubt.
What Was Once Is by And Gone also contains a few instrumental tracks, though to they are really more vignettes than truly songs. “Tangled Chords” is a brief hodgepodge of reverb guitar,, spoken word voice-over, and what appears to be the sound of somebody hammering a nail. “A Little Buzz” is bright and hopeful. “A Version” sounds a bit like a sad, blue carnival with it’s weaving trumpet and synthesizer melodies. The repetitive, staccato piano undertones of “Soap Opera” give the track a haunting quality that evokes feelings of a movie score. In fact, all four of the vignettes do a good job of evoking different, movie score style feelings, and that’s not an accident, as Koski has expressed an interest in dipping his toes in that water in the future.
After a relatively busy post-comeback period a few years ago (three albums in four years), things have been quiet on the new music front from the Swingin’ Utters for a little while now. And while there aren’t traditional punk tunes present on What Was Once Is By And Gone, it serves as a welcome addition to the Koski catalog and hopefully offers him enough of a repertoire to make a go at the solo artist route alongside his normal Utters duties.