|Recorded and released in the wake of Bone Awl's full length, Meaningless Leaning Mess, the Almost Dead Man tape was, in some sense, a shadowside companion to that album. Whereas the former saw the band stretching the wingspan of its approach, employing a full arsenal of songwriting and production tools, Almost Dead Man is primitive, tightly wound, tense, and truculent. It is a throwback to the raw impact of the earlier Bone Awl tapes, but at the same time retains the sharper compositional sensibilities the band developed and perfected over time.
There's also a trickster element at play. Of the nine songs, three of them are inexplicably eponymous, indistinguishably carrying the same title as the tape. One of those tracks, the opening instrumental, is the longest and most repetitious song on the album. And yet, it's also one of the most intriguing, the allure being found in the subtle manipulations and maneuvers that occur over the duration of the song. The second track, also called "Almost Dead Man," as well as "Dead Back Home" capture Bone Awl's power at its zenith, with succinct and memorable riffs uneasily cutting through the fried, electric sound of the recording, which, as with every Bone Awl release, was made direct to a four-track cassette recorder. It is the cultivated interplay between songcraft and production value that has always been among the most captivating aspects of Bone Awl, and it is perhaps nowhere as effective in the band's catalog as this tape.
In a sense, the sound of the recording is itself an instrument. The songs here are warped and contorted by the production effects but still remain accessible and engaging. The faster songs on the tape, such as "Together," and especially the closing track, "The Quiet Torture of Words in a Head," create a sort of Helmholtz resonance effect due to the overdrive on the recording. By contrast, the songs featuring greater compositional subtlety in the riffs and instrumentation, like "When Darkness is All Around" and the staggered menace of "Light the Whore" are kept more intact, allowing some breathing room for the instruments in the otherwise claustrophobic setting.
The degree of sonic corruption on the tape also varies across the generations of dubs. Almost Dead Man was originally intended to be dubbed to order without limitation until the single master tape gave out. Consequently, an unknown and unknowable number of copies exist. In order to reclaim as much as possible of the original tape's sonic integrity, the battered master was sent to Kris Lapke who painstakingly extricated and mastered the audio for this first vinyl release of Almost Dead Man. Additionally, the record, is cut at 45 RPM to enhance the sound quality.