The Horrible Crowes - Elsie

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19 Ene 2012, 3:34

When I first heard Behold The Hurricane on the radio, I thought it sounded good, exactly like a side project of The Gaslight Anthem's Brian Fallon might sound. So after recommending the group to a friend, then forgetting about them, then having the album heavily recommended to me by that same friend, I went out and picked up the disc. There's a bit of mystery to the black packaging, the title that seemingly has little or nothing to do with the songs, and the weird spelling with that extra "e"...suspiciously like that other Crowes band.

Behold the Hurricane is a great track (which I'm liking more and more after seeing the video) but it's a bit misleading because it would fit too neatly on a Gaslight album. The two album openers are more indicative of Elsie's sound: Last Rites sets the stage of fuzzy darkness and religious ritual, and Sugar acts as a sustained build with Fallon's voice caged, sometimes whispering. So the third track brings the hurricane, just when the listener itches for it. It's nicely followed by I Witnessed A Crime, which skips along a simple key progression alternating with a slide guitar riff. It's these catchy bases that make the entire album work; the accessibility of the songs is tempting cover for their dark, muscular tendrils that strengthen with each track. Fallon addresses his ghosts like a priest in tattered garb, who hears "mighty rivers cry out her name" and sees "the heavens and the earth cry over you." Many of the songs have backup vocals which articulate the wailing of the "siren spirits always following." Go Tell Everybody is an upbeat pontification, followed by the heartbreaking Cherry Blossoms, which really cements the preacher's lovesick revival. When he belts the bridge line--"all I can do is think about you"--over a swell of keys, it's undoubtedly enough to bring you into his congregation.

The middle of the album is where one might expect the action to suffer a bit. Somehow, the combination of Ladykiller and Crush is one of my favorite points in the sermon. The former starts with the sound of a lively crowd in a small, jovial room, and the vibe continues throughout the singer's tale of woe. Crush should be silly given its subject matter (yes, it's that kind of crush) but Fallon sings in a slightly different register that works to bring the song to its strong back half (where the title can finally stretch to metaphor with a God-caused flood). And now's a good time to mention the necessity of Ian Perkins on the disc: the songs have strength in their bridges and back ends, where you can hear disparate ideas coming together to form the whole. Along with Cherry Blossoms and Crush, Black Betty and the Moon is another selection with a strong bridge, along with lyrics bringing that fabled fanged widow to mind. Mary Ann is the true rocker of the group (and maybe the next contender for a Gaslight song) which also nicely ties up some of the narrative themes: hurricanes and sirens return, not to mention another conjuring of a female proper noun.

Finally, Blood Loss articulates the landscape of the album, the harsh inner house of the heart where wounds never completely close. Earlier, our narrator admitted: "I carry each and every ghost of my lovers at once" and now he emphasizes the fate of Mary Ann, Black Betty, and perhaps even the elusive Elsie: "sirens they come and sirens they go." But they all leave their mark, and the album closes with a man forcing some sense of purpose onto his loneliness. I Believe Jesus Brought Us Together is meant to be heard with the lights turned way, way low, leaving just enough to see the shadows play on a white wall. You can almost feel the darkness finally settle as the last piano notes fade into nothingness.

So the debut of The Horrible Crowes finds success in its cohesiveness. With each listen, the keys, declarations, and lady figures coalesce into a picture of loss, memory...and possible redemption, because religion is a key piece of the puzzle. And even though the listener can't be sure if the singer is performing as himself or playing a role--after reading between the lines of the stark black and white lyrics with choruses in bold capitals, and noticing that Fallon thanks Jesus before friends and family--it's all part of the intrigue. Call me a convert, even though I heard the preacher sing: "Never trust a stranger with a diamond on his tongue." With a message wrapped in sounds like these, who could come away unconvinced?

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