John E Vistic | Ten Simple Songs About Death | Album Review (2024)

John E Vistic: Ten Simple Songs About DeathJohn E Vistic | Ten Simple Songs About Death | Album Review (1)

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Following on from the recent release of John E Vistic’s symphonic-acoustic single, Athens And Rome, which heralded a significant sidestep from the usual output from his high octane fuelled rock’n’roll band, John now harnesses his inner Johnny Cash vibes as he ventures fully over to the dark side with new acoustic album, Ten Simple Songs About Death.

You don’t need me to tell you that we currently live in very dark times as the spectre of war looms large over so many continents around the world, political unrest is unhinging and destabilising so many societies which once lived in peace, and climate change is gradually eroding the earth’s once beautiful and tranquil surroundings. Whether it is the combination of all these events, or a matter of pure coincidence, that these seeds of darkness are feeding into the world of music right now is anybody’s guess. But having already enjoyed the symphonic reimagining by the Paraorchestra of a collection of songs going under the banner of the Death Songbook, we now have something at the opposite end of the sonic spectrum with John E Vistic’s new stripped-down acoustically based album, Ten Simple Songs About Death.

John E Vistic is more commonly associated with a raw and visceral brand of rock’n’roll which he showcased in 2023 through the wild and eclectic ride of his Humanz Are Bastardz EP. But John’s most recent single, Athens And Rome, heralded a significant shift in focus to a more stripped back, yet equally thought-provoking project, presenting a very different side to his talents with its symphonic-acoustic vibe. New album Ten Simple Songs About Death strips the sound back further to just a stark vocal and acoustic guitar, with the mood shifting only occasionally through an often mournful sounding harmonica break.

John explains the background to the songs as follows, “This collection of songs came in a time of particularly low reflection, in which I found myself unable to think about anything else but the past, change, death, and lost loves. As such I decided to channel the thoughts into ‘Ten Songs’. It worked very well as a ‘health cure’ and I found myself coming out of the darkness into a new feeling of gratefulness for life, despite its vicissitudes (though we shall see how long this lasts).”

As an album which sets out to present a journey from darkness through to new life, the songs are a distinct and unified collection of ideas, with a no frills or tricks approach to live vocals and guitar, virtually no overdubs and simply nothing between the listener and the song. Opening song Devil Take The Hindmost very much sets the tone with the lines ‘We live in the darkness’ and ‘forever is the hereafter, you just got to know where it begins’. Listen to it here.

Two Dead Ex Girlfriends deep dives into the mortality of human life and its impact on the family unit as John reflects on those people who he has lost along the way and the seer finality that death brings. Meanwhile the far more quirky lyricism of We All Fall Down is riddled with a strong Johnny Cash vibe.

John further explains that “Most of the songs on the album are reflective either of my memories of growing up in Australia, or early life in UK, just the looking back over my shoulder at the movement of years towards the here and now.” And he is certainly in a reflective mood through The World That I Once Knew as he tries to ‘fill the gaps between our memories and our dreams’ by taking us back to some of the key characters who have had an influence on his life. Ulysses Before The Flood, which opens with a Neil Young style harmonica breaks follows in a very similar vein as it reflects on a world which has overturned a once innocent child.

This Is My Island, This Is My Home and Mistakes I’ve Made, Trouble I’ve Had both reflect back on the challenges life has posed both through external forces and personal choices and decisions not all resulting in a path that you would necessarily choose. It’s Never Our Fault serves as a poignant reminder that we all have to take responsibility for what is going wrong in the world, something that does not come easy to those who hold the most power as John recognises in the line ‘the times they are changing remember it well, who’s now on the towers is later in hell’.

The album closes in typical style with John rewriting some classic tales focusing on the challenges we face as the human race. Hercules Choice draws on the Greek parable in which Hercules is offered the choice between a life of pleasure or one of hardship and honour. As ever it remains one of life’s dilemmas as to whether we choose the right path, recognising that real value and happiness derives only from hard work. But at least the final song, Thus Spake Zarathustra, does end on a positive note challenging us all to embrace life as we know it now in spite of all the darkness that may surround us, thereby meeting the challenge put before us by Nietzsche for ‘man to become a hero’. No one of course said any of this would be easy.

Ten Simple Songs About Death presents a much starker, mournful, poignant and reflective picture than perhaps any other work completed by John E Vistic so far. Its full of dark imagery which draws on memories, changing times and particularly death, with a focus on some of the people who have shaped his life but are no longer with us.

Throughout the album, John takes a left field swipe towards the more immersive style of songwriting of Bonnie “Prince” Billy whilst channelling his innermost Johnny Cash at his most morbid, with a dash of Neil Young and Nick Cave styling thrown into the mix. Centred very much around his vocal and an acoustic guitar, there is little more than an occasional harmonica break to lighten the load as John challenges the emotions and senses through every phrase and chord change. Late night listening at its finest!

John E Vistic | Ten Simple Songs About Death | Album Review (2)

As to the future, John confirms that he has already written the next two albums plus their next two new punk singles which are produced by Stew Jackson (Massive Attack). These are scheduled for release around late September/ early October when John is scheduled to play some live dates with Mudhoney, so it looks like normal service will soon be resumed with ‘aggressive existentialism’ being the theme of his new material.

The dates currently confirmed with Mudhoney are as follows:
Fri 27.09.24 Brighton – Concorde 2
Sat 28.09.24 Manchester – New Century Hall
Sun 29.09.24 Glasgow – St. Lukes
Tue 01.10.24 Bristol – Bristol Academy

You can stream the album here.

You can find John E Vistic on Facebook,X (Twitter),Bandcamp and his website.


All words by Ian Corbridge. You can find more of his writing at his author profile.

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John E Vistic | Ten Simple Songs About Death | Album Review (2024)
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