Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Here Comes These United States

This post has been sitting in the mental waiting room for a while and for whatever reason I have just not gotten around to it until now. I am sure you are all relieved that I finally have!

Washington DC-based These United States appear to be a bit unknown at this point--they don't even appear to have a Wikipedia page at this point (c'mon TUS fans, get with it!). Metacritic which is so on the ball it already has reviews up of The Cardinals album that was released yesterday doesn't have an entry for the new TUS album, Crimes, even though it has been out for a couple months--although they do have reviews on the first TUS album (and to be fair that album also came out this year only months before Crimes). And yet I feel a bit behind the times since there are a host of bloggers I follow who took a gander at this album some time ago. I guess the important part here is that just about everyone who has heard this second effort is positive on it--including yours truly. So let's get to it.

First off, I think you generally have to be into lyrics to like TUS--either that or you have to be someone who is totally oblivious to lyrics--although that is hard on this album much as it would be, say on a Dylan album. I am not saying that TUS frontman Jesse Elliott is Dylan (why ever make that comparison), but rather that the writing is integral to the tunes here. The lyrics are full of rich imagery with cultural and literary references that on one level seem to make sense and on another seem to make you wonder what Elliott is really after. Just to give you a sense, a quick scan of the songs on this album gives us references to Cain and Abel, Dionysus, Don Quixote, Samuel Clemens, Atlantis, the Big Blue Ox and John Chapman, and the topics are equally diverse. Overall though the lyrics are interesting and engaging.

Of course it helps that they are set musically in a sound that I can only described as laid-back rock. It has a certain southern blues feel to it, although Elliott's voice and the voice treatment could make you think of Beck. Ultimately, you feel like they are rockin' but no they couldn't be bothered to get up off the couch while they were playing. I actually mean this in a really positive way--it has that feeling of front porch blues overlaid with some indie tendencies. They seem very comfortable with the sound and it has a certain effortless feel and the band sounds really responsive to each other. And all that said, I would really love to see them live as I suspect there isn't much lying about involved in their shows.

And so ultimately, I suspect that there is a lot more coming about These United States. It is hard to know just what to share from this album as I would say it would take at least five songs to give you a sense of it all. Two of my favorites are "Susie at the Seashore" and "Honor Amongst Thieves" which you can check out at those respective links, so I am going to sample three other tunes that I think capture the album.

First is the opening track "How the West Was Won" which sets a great tone for the album--first tracks are so important to me--and really shows off Elliott's lyrical ability. Next to give you a sense of their slower, blues sound is "We Go Down to the Corner" which slowly builds to great resolution as Elliott croons "cheer up, baby, cheer up" and finally "Six Fast Bullets" which has a great laid back sound and the wonderful lyrical warning "I have six fast bullets but only five complaints!" Watch out if you don't want to complete that equation.

How the West Was Won  (Buy Album)
We Go Down to the Corner
Six Fast Bullets (Five Complaints)

Oh, and as a bonus, I switched players (hat tip to Nelson over at Fifty Cent Lighter) which means that if you just start the player on the first song it will play all the tracks as they appear. Good times!

1 comment:

Payton said...

Glad someone else feels the same way I do about these guys. They have a strong chance for album of the year on my list...