Strawfoot - How We Prospered
Even though their last album was quite good in its own right, this album is significantly better. It is more cohesive musically and thematically. From the first song to the last, this album presents music that is engaging both lyrically and musically. Marcus Eder’s vocals are less twangy and have a fuller edge to them which improves the overall sound of the band. It worked for Chasing Locusts, but it would not have fit well with the atmosphere of this album. They also allowed the electric guitars to have more of a premiere place in the songs as well, but they do it in such a way where it does not overpower the acoustic and bluegrass elements. “Invisible Man” is the most effortless example of the combination of both of these elements into a sonic unity. It has power and grabs your attention from the beginning. This is a pleasing record and one which I will probably include in my top albums for the year.
There are a couple of songs that really stretch the overall sound of the band: “Independence Day” and “Churchyard Cough.” “Independence Day” sounds more like something from a singer-songwriter’s solo album. It is simple, but dark and effective. Easily the best song on this album overall. The lyrics mix allusions of American past and familial conflict that shows an intensity not found in most work by singer-songwriters. “Churchyard Cough” made me do a double take on the first listen because it sounded like it had been ripped directly from a Flogging Molly album. The vocals were almost indistinguishable from Dave King and I automatically fell for this rather short, frantic song. Neither one of these songs would have been expected from Strawfoot but were a welcomed addition and a sign of talent and willingness to stretch themselves and the image of their band. Spectacular album and looking forward to seeing where they go from here.
Apocalyptic Rating: 9 out of 10 (Oh come and sit beside me, I’ll share a dreadful tale)
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Those Poor Bastards - Country Bullshit (Reissue) EP
Like they announce on the first track, this EP is full of country-tinged music that is “raw and bleeding.” Easily showing their influences firmly in the traditional roots of folk and outlaw country, they conjure up the styles and ghosts of Williams, Haggard, Jennings and Cash. Full of hell and damnation and a world where God is nothing more than an unforgiving and cranky deity. Where their earlier material (including this EP) has not quite developed the dramatic flair and nihilistic flavor of their later work, this EP does not make the listener feel near as defiled and allows for a little bit of levity in spots, which is something they have increasingly forgotten as they have moved on in their career. “The Accident” and “Black Dog Yodel” easily take precedence on this short album. In these songs we find a perfect mixture of Those Poor Bastards’ ability to make a largely traditional country song while not forsaking their dark gothic americana roots and influences. “Radio Country” (which is a later addition to the reissue of the Country Bullshit EP) is a short and simple song about the state of country music. I may agree with the sentiments on it, but it is not the most enthralling song; neither is the hidden demo of “The Bright Side” that was unnecessarily tacked on to the end of it.
Those Poor Bastards - Abominations EP
This EP, however, is successful from beginning to end. As the cover somewhat implies, this is a group of songs that is meant for a Halloween playlist. Only the first song, “Nightmare World,” surpasses the 2 minute mark. It is a necessarily song in that it rightly sets the tone for the rest of the album. It describes the world that the listener is stepping into, a world of abominations, ghosts, the unredeemed, the hell-driven, etc. The remaining four tracks delve into focused stories within this world. Residents are haunted by unrelenting ghosts, men lose their churches and their faiths with it, and trees take on a life of their own. Every song matches the tone and atmosphere of the others to create a dark and oppressively frightening world in which everything that could happen, most likely will happen. I am not sure but what this may be my favorite work of this band.
Apocalyptic Rating: 8 out of 10 (Mainly because of the Abominations EP, it was suited perfectly for Halloween)
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The Builders and The Butchers - Salvation is a Deep, Dark Well
All of the greatness that was showcased in their debut album is present on this, their sophomore release, except their is a growth or, dare I say, maturity that reveals itself on this release that wasn’t present on the last. Whereas their debut looked as if they were throwing caution to the wind and just kicking back and having fun, this one feels like more time was spent on the compositions; like they felt the pressure of the sophomore slump. The percussion is still largely present on this album but there are a few tracks where it takes a backseat to the other instruments and to Sollee’s vocals (and some haunting female vocals, as well). Don’t worry, the heavy romps are still present on this album, but they are cleaner and more contained than they had been previously. This is The Builders and The Butchers showing us that they, actually, do care about the art of making music and not just about having a blast out on the back porch.
This album is even more impressive with the recognition that it only took the band ten days to record it. I assume their was plenty of preparation leading up to those ten days, but it is impressive nonetheless. The stories that haunt these songs seem even darker than the batch from the last album; it seems like there is even less hope present here and more recognition of the depravity of man inherent in the actions of the characters that pepper this album. A lotta devil talk and only a few mentions of salvation, but it never seems to be without a point, without a moral. Basically this album shows the proper response to morality by showing what happens when they are thrown to the wayside. It is only at the end where we get what sounds like the spirituals to counter the first two thirds of the album. However, even the spirituals feel as if something is slowly rotting beneath them.
In the end, this album seems more compelling, musically pleasing, and more full. Where the last album lambasted us with percussion, this one just batters us a bit, yet we begin to enjoy it. It is also good to see Ryan Sollee getting a chance to showcase his voice without the oppressive percussion overpowering it. This album really does make you believe that the road to salvation is not near as easy of a road as Joel Osteen or any of the televangelists might make you think. That’s something to be praised in and of itself.
Apocalyptic Rating: 8 out 10 (I sink slowly down as the tide’s rolling in and everything fades to black)
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