Monday, April 13, 2009

Citizen review of Yonder is the Clock

I like the idea of how undiscovered bands get record deals. I sometimes have this idealized image of a band toiling away at tiny bars while suited record store execs whisper quietly in conference about whether or not the band is poised for stardom. Of course, I’m well aware this isn’t how it all goes, but it’s at least intriguing to consider the basic premise. We also cover a lot of debut records in our business and I often imagine the immense tension and excitement surrounding a band’s first nationwide release. The interim between discovery and first release is no doubt a whirlwind time for bands, and the uncertainty has to be simply overwhelming. One of the things endearing about discussing independent music is that none of this really matters at this point. What’s ultimately important is that music and artistic creation is always front and center with indie bands. Half of our feature bands still have day jobs and moonlight as aspiring rock gods. We get to follow the progression, from discovery all the way through a band’s stylistic improvement. This is always unique to think about. The Felice Brothers, an upstate NY alt-country outfit has an album hitting the shelves today, and their “discovery” in a NY subway station rattling away at homemade and battered instruments is, at least, a cool ass story. Add in the retro and raucous sound of their sophomore effort, Yonder is the Clock, into the mix and we’ve got a recipe for fun this April.

Yonder is the Clock is successful on two important levels, vibe and instrumental consistency. These brothers have a panache for turning back the clocks to emulate some Woodie Guthrie infused with a modern edge. Lawlessness and sweet southern sentimentality wash this record with a dirty and gravelly layer of value. Ian, Simone, and James Felice all hail from the Catskill Mountain region of New York, and this kind of psuedo-backwoods charm is all over this album. “Penn Station” is the second track on the record, and Ian Felice’s hardened and weathered vocal delivery is purposeful in its true countrfied vibe. To continue the overall vibe, the album meanders through slow burners and washboard banging upbeat tracks. The five-piece was discovered playing at a subway station, and it’s incredibly easy to picture these guys sitting awkwardly in a concrete jungle belting out country jams in an almost stereotypical fashion. It’s tracks like “Run Chicken Run” and “Chicken Wire” that stomp and square dance this strange image home. You know the iconic image of a group of rag tag renegade misfits blowing into milk jugs and banging pots and pans on a country front porch? Yeah, these are those guys. The vibe is harnessed and emitted well here. Nothing tricky, but super delicious in its twang.

Yonder is the ClockThe second major boon to Yonder is the Clock is its storytelling and well rounded lyricism. ”Katie Dear” is a certifiably amazing track about halfway through, connecting plucky synthesizers to heartwarming lyrics. Katie Dear, make me a a road map with those brown old eyes I love . . . I’ll sing you a jailbird song. “Rise and Shine” and “Ambulance Man” are tracks where Ian Felice restrains his vocals and tells stories of yearning. Our best country standards are about grizzled narratives of heartache, and The Felice Brothers certainly keep this convention close to home here.

The danger here is pigeonholing The Felice Brothers into a country quintet spitting out Appalachian jams, as this sells them extremely short. Live show reviews have alluded to energy and humor, but this new release is loaded with instrumental largeness, as well. To put it short, the subway days are long gone and this is an excellent bonus for us. ”Buried in Ice” is a prime example as James and Ian go to town with a dissonant piano intro and violins and rattle-snake shaker percussion creates more than a simple country twang. These guys are keenly aware of arrangement and how it connects to emotional content. Accordion sounds, sweeping synths and entire horn sections are also present. The previously mentioned stomper, “Run Chicken Run” toes the line between square dance and European, fiddling and crashing cymbals all the way to its close. This album works best when all parts of the equation mesh together. Ian’s gravelly, Marlboro Red style vocals, James and Simone’s artistic instrumentation, and added cast members of horns, organs, and fiddles all create a conglomeration that is beyond those early subway performances.

This second full length marks a progression for The Felice Brothers, and while the sound is plucked straight from a time machine, there’s a lot to like in a modern sense. When listening to this album I kind of wish I could have caught an impromptu street-side performance a few years ago. There’s a rich and emotional structure to the construction of the tracks and even on the most mellow songs it’s obvious these guys love what they do. Pick it up today and fall in.