Richard Buckner’s songs are filled with latenight phone calls from dingy motels, memories of past affairs, unfinished letters and failed attempts to explain what went wrong. “I’ll show you where I’ve been, then I’ll set it straight again,” he sings in “Straight,” from his new Merge album, “Dents and Shells.” They end up with the singer almost always alone; riding off not heroically into the sunset, but in an old, beat-up car, driving without a destination into a chilly, starless night. With his delicately spare arrangements and rumbling vocals weighed down with regret, the result is as beautifully sere and isolated as Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon” (and like Drake, Buckner’s music has been featured in a Volkswagen commercial).
In his solo appearance at the Troubadour Monday night, Buckner emphasized his songs’ moody delicacy. There were no breaks between songs. At times he would simply couple them together without stopping, or he would build instrumental passages from loops of guitars — glacial waves of sound that would build and suddenly stop, as if they fell off a cliff, and a gently strummed acoustic guitar would take their place.
Never sure when a song was really over, it stymied the aud’s attempt to applaud. Not that it mattered to Buckner; he barely seemed aware of their presence. He spent the instrumental portions of the show looking down at his various effects boxes, or switching between instruments; when he faced the aud to sing, his eyes were squeezed shut.
The result is a perf that matches the songs in its aching fragility. Buckner may be too dark for mainstream, but he is an uncompromising and spellbinding songwriter and performer.