Jason Merritt is a slender dude who rolls his own organic tobacco cigarettes, almost always wears a hat and a jacket, and is one of those introspective types who reads books a lot and works construction by day. He moved here with his artist wife, Summer Lee, from Brooklyn almost a year ago. Jason is also really talented, a good listener, and I really want to say one of those Spin magazine soundbytes about him like, "He's one of the best musicians you've never heard," before you turn the page already because you've heard it all before. The next thing you know I'm gonna say the dude is huge in the Netherlands or something (he is).
Well, Merritt truly is one of the best musicians you've never heard, and he's also one of the most world-weary. Or you think he must be when he opens his mouth and sings, either fronting the awesome, still Brooklyn-based folk-pop band Timesbold or solo under the name Whip.
Merritt's second album as Whip, Atheist Love Songs to God, is about to be released in the States on Resonant. The album was all written and recorded in one room in Brooklyn in a few weeks, and it's pretty awesome: a slow, haunting, occasionally beautiful record. Each song here is intricately arranged, but the focal point is always Merritt's warbly Appalachia-tinged voice. I guess if M. Ward and Tom Waits collaborated, it might sound like this. The music is a kind of dirge-folk that teeters in between the studied Americana of the No Depression-ites and the sincere "indie folk" of Songs: Ohia. But it's still different enough from those two poles to have fallen between the cracks. It's serious stuff but never takes itself too seriously. When I ask whether this is a concept album, Merritt hedges that "all albums are concept albums in some form," before answering the real question by saying no, he doesn't actually believe in God.
"I suppose I'm really just 'fessing up, and trying to give a name to devotional songs without a god in them," he says. The devotional theme isn't the only thing Merritt has borrowed from the old-timey gang. If you listen to a lot of blues and folk music, you hear the same phrases used in song after song. Merritt does the same thing, but uses lines from folk-pop on Atheist, freely quoting the Stones, Velvets and Pearls Before Swine in these songs, one of which is about Tom Rapp from Pearls and another about Kurt Cobain. "I consider myself, at best, a recycler," he explains with an unforced humility, "and I really like it when songwriters write about other songwriters."
Whip plays with the Double U, Luca and Eric Nordby Wednesday, Aug. 24, at Berbati's Pan. 9:30 pm. $6. 21+.