moments before the wind.

April 20, 2006

yesterday was once tomorrow

Filed under: authenticity, country, folk, indie, music, news, reviews, rock, writing — alimarcus @ 10:27 am

…what to write…what to write…

I'm going to post a review on Two Gallants, contemporary bards of the modern age. They will be in Seattle June 1st, mark your calendars…

Tomorrow i will describe in depth the dream I had last night about Ben Gibbard. Until then, enjoy–

What The Toll Tells
(Saddle Creek)
We are welcomed into Two Gallants’ sophomore effort, What The Toll Tells, with the tell-tale dustbowl winds, bristling across the barren flats of Oklahoma, ushering in a certain kind of scene, stripping away any semblance of civilization, or the luxury of participating in it. But what follows proves to be a sort of reckless abandon with respect to expectations. All bets are off; all rules null and void.

What follows is a sometimes-frenetic, sometimes-morbid, always-riveting catalogue of human experience. Epic, nine-minute ballads bring us to the point of nihilistic exhaustion, and then sprawling bursts of energy faithfully return us to the ground. Searing political damnation melds with the adolescent pathos of a life that no longer wants to be lived. Seems a bit heady for two guys in their early twenties, doesn’t it?

After the underground success of their first album, The Throes (Alive Records), childhood buddies Adam Stephens and Tyson Vogel signed on at Saddle Creek Records for Toll, most notably home to Conor Oberst. The duo bears a lot of similarity to the good parts of Oberst’s Bright Eyes outfit: country-esque roots, relevant youthful disillusionment, lyrical acrobatics, believable passion and serious songwriting skills.

“Steady Rollin’” eagerly steps up as the pub sing-along, as the chorus is half-yelled, “I come from the old town baby/ to wait for you to save me,” but this rowdy romp is more the exception than the rule. “Slender Rest” provides the kind of macabre respite that evokes a confessional Byron, and “Threnody” is a masterful story worthy of Edgar Allen Poe. It’s rare for such poetic notions to sound so much like rock’n’roll.

That literary references seem more appropriate than music ones is not so strange, given that their name comes directly from a James Joyce short story and Stephens claims Faulkner as a key influence. The narrative quality of almost every song on Toll speaks to this. It’s not just the lyrics either, because the dynamics and tempo are employed to tell a story of their own, alongside the words.

It is partly this refusal to utilize pop standards of regularity or predictable form that recall musics of the early 20th century. But the rough vocals, schizophrenic tempos, sparse arrangements and torrid tales meld together into a most appealing – and thoroughly modern – combination. And we know that these boys are not down-on-their-luck coal miners, nor are they heroes of the romantic poet persuasion. (They may want to be: “So I’ll take to the hills to live savage and free/ I don’t need nobody, nobody needs me.”) Their skill in depicting the commonalities though, between these character sketches and the life of a youthful American citizen, is outstanding. The ability to play it off with complete sincerity is a marvel, and the effect on the listener is sheer wonder at the shock of recognition. ALI MARCUS


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