Following a move to Chicago in 2021, Jonathan Hodges — the multi-instrumentalist troubadour behind Bomethius, his prolific baroque pop project — had no plans to take even the slightest break from performing and recording. His larynx wasn’t on board, though, and he soon discovered the husk and rasp he’d been nursing with gargles of honey and apple cider vinegar didn’t stem from fatigue or some respiratory bug, but from a polyp on his vocal cords. After going under the knife to have it removed, he had to remain absolutely silent for weeks, communicating only through curt scribbles and gestures. Later, he entered speech therapy and, with the help of a specialist, retrained his voice to speak and sing from scratch.
“Right before I lost consciousness, the surgeon asked me if I had any final questions," recalls Hodges. “I could feel the drugs starting to work, and I said, “I know I can’t talk after this, but I’m sort of a sensitive person. Is crying OK?” She stopped and kind of laughed, ‘What? No. Don’t do anything. Why are you crying? Find happy things to do. You’re going to be just fine.’”
Once cleared to emerge from silence, Hodges returned to gigging at Sofar shows and Chicago’s venues and regrouped with his band of collaborators to cut Awful, Pompous, & Artificial (APA), Bomethius’ sixth full-length release in as many years. Largely produced in his Uptown apartment, the album takes its title from a slew of apocryphal centuries-old quotes about the architecture of St. Paul’s cathedral. Along the way, he managed to track down Tom Lehrer, the nonagenarian satirist famous for his wry musings as a solo pianist during the 1950s, to ask for permission to sample some of his work. (It was granted; Lehrer donated all his music to the public domain years ago, but Hodges still wanted to make sure he was doing right by the man.)
A dynamic exploration of estrangement and the intangible devastation wrought by language in free fall, APA stews and surges with a ferment of earnest, fiery voices that reflect the troubling spiritual mechanics of fruitless utterances — messages that cannot be received, even if they are delivered. In addition to regular Bomethius contributors Jeff Tullis (bass), Ricky Roshell (woodwinds), and Chris Stubblefield (trumpet), APA adds the talents of Sam Ahmadi on guitar and Physick’s Michael Minkoff on percussion, creating Bomethius’ fullest, richest, and most nuanced sound yet.
Highlights include “Barren Field” with its lush soundscape of violins, guitars, soaring vocals, and background harmonies; “As Bad as They Say,” where silken vocals set to the swaggering plucks of an upright channel the noir vibe of an after-hours cabaret; “Pseudo-Anonymity,” adynamic instrumental carried by dueling acoustic guitars that traces the fraught emotions and internal dialogue of separation; “The Upside Down,” which pulses with eldritch synths and beats reminiscent of a John Carpenter film score; and “The Pigeon,” APA’s lone moment of laughter and levity, where frolicsome whistling and theatrical guitarwork transform a failed attempt to catch a bus into a surreal descent into insecurity and delirium.