Joe Pug’s The Diving Sun is a Midlife Crisis Captured in Poetic Genius

Image courtesy of WXXI News

By Caleb Lovell

“Shut up, jump in!” folk singer-songwriter Joe Pug exclaims on his new record The Diving Sun, which was released in March. This lyric could easily be interpreted as an invitation to the listener to invest oneself in the depth of meaning that this brilliantly poetic album has to offer. 

A troubadour revered for his lyrical craftsmanship, Pug has been compared to the likes of Josh Ritter, Tom Waits, and even the legendary Bob Dylan. The Diving Sun is Pug’s fifth full-length album, and one that is by no means an exception to this high standard of songwriting.

But this latest project is one that is very unique in Pug’s catalog; it is a conglomeration of fan favorites and songs that were written during the quarantine in “a water-damaged basement in Prince George’s County, Maryland.” The record could be seen as a collection of lost loves, with the songs themselves coming from a “water-damaged” dreamer who doesn’t care much for dreaming anymore.

“I don’t care about those starry dreams,” he declares on the song “Deep End,” “The waking world is never found.”

The album feels like a deep shift in the artistic values of its maker and in the narrative that he is trying to write. While some of his earlier material is written from the perspective of a restless truth-seeker, Pug’s new record comes from the voice of a road-worn traveler who is looking back on the journey in a solemn state of mind. 

“I’ve been a thousand men / I’ve been a single child,” he reflects on “Look Out Desdemona,” a song that may be the contemplative cornerstone of the whole record. The last verse depicts the narrator looking up at the stars with the deeply moving line, “They have never changed / I have strayed so far.”

The album is not all so pensively melancholic, however. The first track and lead single, “Crescent Bridge,” is a prime example, and is arguably one of the best-written songs in Pug’s entire discography. On this song we catch a glimpse of the bright romantic that was so vividly apparent in Pug’s early career.

The song could perhaps be seen as Pug’s own “Free Fallin’,” with the irresistibly catchy chorus and the theme of feeling lost somewhere in the grand scheme of love. But even this song contains a touch of sorrow, as he seems to be longing for something or someone he cannot attain.

This desire for something that seems to have already passed is a central theme of the record, which Pug explores deeper on the tracks “Wild Kind of Longing” and “Free Rider.” These songs evoke a sense of self-reflection about who we are and the decisions with which we have to live.

But while The Diving Sun is in essence a rumination on past lives that would rather be forgotten, it is also a celebration of the present moment to which it all has amounted. 

“How I was saved from a journey depraved and wretched / How often I wondered,” Pug exclaims, expressing a sentiment that many of us feel when we look back on how far we have come as people. 

The Diving Sun is a record that invites us into a deeper relationship with reality (as all forms of art should), and ultimately into a deeper relationship with ourselves. After all, as Pug himself so directly and yet so profoundly puts it in one of his songs, “this is all we get.”

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