Country music has always been convenient to New York’s Dougie Poole. It knows his heart, which weighs heavy with the many existential pressures threatening the spirit of younger people. It’s what makes Poole the saddened troubadour he claims not to be, yet ends up being anyway for the current zeitgeist – never more so than on his third record, The Rainbow Wheel of Death.
The spinning rainbow wheel is a frustrating image ingrained in the shared cultural consciousness of those who grew up online. But as vexing as it is when this technicolor circle turns away, infinitely mocking and sinister, it presents an opportunity to stop and reflect. Poole uses it to reminisce about love, loss, and the world’s end – all familiar nags to the collective millennial brain. While such thoughts are hardly exclusive to his generation, his new record entwines enough current cultural references to relate Poole to those who’ve also been running this wheel their whole lives like some hopeless hamster.
On ‘Worried Man Blues’, Poole repeats “It takes a worrying man to sing a worrying song,” and The Rainbow Wheel of Death is indeed full of anxiety. It’s also full of visions of apocalyptic plagues, intrusive thoughts of unfulfilment, untapped potential, and inadequate relationships. Still, amidst the bleakness, Poole’s music frequently surprises us with the sudden impulse to smile.
There’s never not been an unassuming surface to Poole’s music, but he’s toned it down and even lifted this facade to reveal more sombreness. When he delivers lines like, “nothing on this world can make me smile,” as “troubles stack like dishes in a crooked pile,” the crooner delivers it with the destitute sadness these words ought to convey. This sense of ruin, accompanied by expectancy, permeates the entire record.
Yet in places, light punctures this drudgery, such as with the romping, tuneful ‘Beth David Cemetery’. Despite hearing Poole almost joyfully anticipate his death and demise, “Beth David, here I come… I’m heading home to give you back another one,” there’s relief and admiration in Poole accepting his mortality. But alas, the morosity comes clouding back in with ‘Nickels and Dimes’ and ‘Lived My Whole Life Last Night’ to follow, where cynicism waves its shadowy hand to remind us this is no easy life.
There’s no doubting this record’s sense of self-deprecation and Poole’s ability to relate to his generation and the next, crushingly so. But musically, Poole’s latest is oddly bright and sweet, with a live band sound to help convey a perfect looseness. It’s easy to put on in the background as you leisure through its transfixing repetition and crystalline melodies, enchanting you into its cyclical hold as you mindlessly hum along about unrequited love and cataclysmic inevitability. Such an odd way to soundtrack one’s spilled-over cynicism, no doubt, but it’ll have you hopping back on this wheel of eternal apathy. Thankfully, we have this modest cowboy from New York to empathize with us as we run in place, or even, as we stick our faces back in front of another frozen monitor.