Record: Seasons of Limbo (Self-Released, 2021)
I enjoy throwing complex harmony at pop songs. Said a different way, I enjoy making complex harmony accessible or alluring. It allows for more inventive text painting, and richer tension.Jonathan Hodges
For months, recording artists have been releasing their responses to the “pandemic collapse” we’ve all been trapped in for more than a year. With its toxic roots in 2016, 2020 became a nightmare we haven’t fully awoken from. Far from being over, as the world tests its new “freedom” to interpret the rhetorical, political flourishes of opaque public-relations maneuvering about wearing masks and getting vaccinations — or not — recording artists like Bomethius (Dallas-based songwriter Jonathan Hodges) have struggled to balance the wounds and the gifts that came to them from dark places of isolation and loss — creating complex emotional suites of lyrical songs that feel at times almost too brutal, almost too confessional. Hodges’s songs pull at the heart like those of a young Elliott Smith or Mark Linkous, with the vocal delicacy and lift of Jeff Buckley (from his early 1990s fragile “Live at Sin-é” era). One man and a guitar against a storm of trauma and uncertainty.
The last time the world changed forever, much less in scale than we’ve just experienced but equally devastating, will reach its twentieth anniversary this September, itself a testament to the longevity of these kinds of visceral catastrophes. Many more souls have been lost this time, here and around the world — almost everyone has a story of loss to share. Hodges’s approach to his limbo of 2020, and its lingering aftereffects, is an 11-track collection of songs, “Seasons of Limbo” (self-released, 2021), a cycle that slips breezy, open-hearted pop-infused melodies under the weight of confessional, revealing lyrics evocative of lines from an introspective private journal of self-doubt, alienation, and censure. This juxtaposition is arresting, emotionally disorienting at times, and yet feels perfectly normal given what we’ve all just lived through — his shared humanity, familiarity, and intimacy serves as a testament to the craft and honesty that Hodges brings to his task.
Seasons of Limbo (2021)
Track 1: Traffic
Track 2: As Yourself
Track 3: A Close Call
Track 4: Goodbye Covid-19
Track 5: I’m Trying
Track 6: Nothing Intro
Track 7: Nothing
Track 8: Tornados in Dallas (Studio)
Track 9: All I’ll Need
Track 10: Shake My Spirit
Track 11: Where Are My People?
There are five standout tracks on this record, songs directly seeking an emotional engagement deeper than this assembling’s pop veneer. In many ways our ability to relate to the lyrics through all these song lines comes from how 2020 brought a global crisis to our already strained lives in an age of heightened divisions within every sector of our society. We were coming apart before we fell apart. Most of us weren’t doing really well before Covid. How can one not feel personally picked on when emergencies strike, relationships break down, or collapsing finances force unanticipated changes even as an invisible, deadly threat seems to be closing in all around?
“Seasons of Limbo” speaks through metaphor directly into places we’ve all traveled for months. In the song, “A Close Call,” relationships, tension, and severe self reflection force the vision: “When we live in fear / Joy and pain feel the same.” The urgent need to act, because action almost always makes us feel better — not always with the results we hope for — than simply holding a painful revelation as a point of spiritual vigil, is the space Hodges explores in his song, “I’m Trying.” Even as dreams become nightmares, and all light fades, judgment potentially rises to defeat us — “Because I know I’m still / Working through lies / And I’m scared you’ll find me / Living in here.” Trying isn’t always succeeding, but it’s a start.
“I suppose my life was caught up in the ever looming possibility of upheaval and change prior to 2020,” said Hodges, in a recent email to The Palace. “When 2020 began deteriorating I was already dealing with separate problems that were either carried over from the years(s) previous, or were entirely divorced from the primary crisis the world was unwillingly thrust into.” Two of those problems involved serious health worries apart from Covid. “By the time the pandemic was a nail-biting reality, we were still reeling from the possibility of losing a family member to cancer,” said Hodges. The song, “A Close Call,” is loosely based on this experience.
The second medical concern, one more immediately related to this artist’s ability to continue to explore his emotional performance and recording style, was for Hodges’s own voice. “Another difficulty concerned my voice,” said Hodges, “which began acting strange around March of 2020.” Hodges recorded “Seasons of Limbo” with an unknown polyp on his left vocal cord that will eventually require surgery so that he can retain the full use of his vocal range. “The doctors are hopeful that I’ll make a full recovery,” said Hodges, “and regain complete use of my voice — though hopefully I’ll learn to use it in a more sustainable manner.”
I’m quite capable of simultaneously holding onto despair and thankfulness, fear and courage, desire and disgust. I suppose sad songs that are in ‘sad’ keys not only run the risk of being boring, they also, as a result, run the risk of coming across as formulaic or insincere — and I really can’t abide that.Jonathan Hodges
Eventually, we find our epiphany in this record, that the sacred is often found in how much fear we can share together — endure together — as Hodges explores in his song, “Tornados in Dallas.” Sometimes coping with a crisis together is the best test we ever have to find our true selves, to come together even as we’re falling apart, as we did on September 11, 2001. “Shake My Spirit” and “Where Are My People?“, two songs taken together as the apogee of “Seasons of Limbo,” exhausted as they are by emotion and relentless questioning of the artist’s assumptions we all hold dear about ourselves and our communities, Hodges is spent. “Where are my people?… / I just can’t find my people / I don’t seem to belong / Ever since I left home…”
2020 will be a scar we will all feel for years to come. The search for belonging again, and repairing what’s been broken will continue because what we’ve all been through has divided every strata of our society, whether we can put it into writing or not. Hodges, in a stirring narrative that weaves through his 11 sweetly sung ballads, between lyrical poetry and shaken invocation, is asking many of the questions we’re all asking of ourselves. His answers, our answers, however, will take a little longer to find, maybe years.