I’m a bit late to the show, but like all of Markham’s output, this one’s a grower. It might be the one you’ll have to spend the most time with out of all of the Markham albums. And that’s because, underneath the twang, the West Texas melodies, the semblance of loneliness, that dirgy Deadsy guitar, that brilliant album title, and that head-scratching album cover, Ruined My Life is a new side of Daniel Markham he’s merely hinted at in the past. With this, the first post-Lubbock proper full-length, and the first proper solo album, his eyes are turned outward, his head is held higher, and frankly, the mood’s a bit brighter.
The highlight here is “New Blood.” Uptempo and upbeat, Markham signals early this album represents a change in life, attitude, and perspective. And I can’t think of a single song he’s ever done that sounds anything like it. Throughout the album, a theme of “moving on” and “well wishes” are given as opposed to past Markham mantras of lost love and confused direction. Pronouns have shifted in his lyrics, giving advice to broken hearts rather than lamenting his own. One Wolf’s material produced an image of internal battle and identity struggle. Ruined My Life (with a title that’s simultaneously humorous, unfortunate, guilty, and, maybe for an ex, downright accurate) contains songs that signify that internal battle, at least for now, has been won.
The death of R.E.M. likely put a heavy weight on the songwriter’s psyche. I’m merely speculating, but I’d be willing to bet money that’s who the “favorite band” is in Ruined My Life. Regardless, the influence has never been more prevalent in Markham’s music than here. “Drag Up Some Dead” sounds like it could belong deep on New Adventures In Hi-Fi and “Killers They Will Creep” makes the younger Markham of Waiting to Derail fame sound like a guy wasting away in Margaritaville. We’ve certainly come a long way from “Wish,” haven’t we?
But mostly, it’s an amalgamate of good ol’ Markham. Combining elements of pretty much everything he’s ever done, from the lovelorn alt-country of Waiting to Derail to the pop laden with sadness throughout the first One Wolf album, to the cacophony of guitar and emotional torment in the second One Wolf album, there’s signature sounds here that immediately make me think of Lubbock, Texas, even though I haven’t been there in years, and I’ve never heard this new music there.
But this is not Lubbock music. Lubbock is a wonderful place to live….for a while. But anyone who’s felt stuck there likely would put a few One Wolf tracks on their mixtape dedicated to a future away from the eerie desolation, the unending boredom, the strange loneliness in a town of 300,000 people. The Markham Sound is inherently Lubbock – it was born there, it still remains in his music; you never really wash off that red dirt. But lyrically, thematically, this is the soundtrack of Lubbock behind you. The melodies are more positive (“No Mosquitos,” which could be about leaving the 806), the thoughts are optimistic (“Best of Luck,” one of the strongest tracks on the album), and the humor, always hinted at in the past, is more apparent here. Less about love lost and more about change, traveling, touring, living life, Ruined My Life is a more mature Markham, a refocused, repurposed, relocated, and recalculated Texas musician Denton should be proud to call a resident.
Buy it on iTunes.