Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Two Gallants - The Bloom And The Blight


A few of the synonyms and definitions for the word gallant include: brave, grand, colorful and magnificent. It's a worthy selection of terms and descriptions for San Francisco folk rock duo, Two Gallants. Their discography, while carries the duo's same aesthetically energetic flurry of vocals atop lavish guitars, still has a canny variety running through it. My first experience of the band through their debut 'The Throes' showed a sense of lo-fi exploration ran through a series of brave and bold compositions that both tested and cemented the band's sense of characteristic story-telling. And while their self-titled release - their most recent coming to us in 2007 - had a much more indie and all-round full-circle approach to its sound, the band have lost none of the respect and interest they've garnered since their debut. And while it has been a full five years, 'The Bloom And The Blight' continues Two Gallant's differentiation between itself on records. However, its sound is not the only contrasting element, as you will find out, length-wise.

So setting itself out then as a ten-track album, you'd expect its presentation to be bold, enriching and the same type of grandness that usually associates with both the band and the name. 'Halcyon Days' makes no hesitation as the opening track here, Gallant's latter alternate edge and finely sprung vocals and guitars provide a somewhat rumpus but still energetic start to the album. Adam Stephen, Gallant's guitarist and main vocalist, is certainly one to emphasize and detail all the joyous influence of American rock and even grunge, in small pockets, in his voice. 'Song of Songs' exchanges between lonelier strums and leads of guitar strings, but it's Stephen's emphatic revealing - followed closely by the guitar and percussion then colliding full-force together - of lyrics and subject matter that grabs you. 'I'm gonna tell them how she treated me kind' he bloats seemingly proudly despite coming across as somewhat uncertain and aggressively anxious. Indeed, the music feels almost too harsh or forward in regards to the subject matter, and its shorter than expected duration may distract from the potential hook it carries.

When rhythm is emphasized though - and when it matters - the duo prove more than that of lyricism that they can structure a song somewhat borrowing from influence, but still holding enough of its own stature. 'My Love Won't Wait' begins with a rowdy waving of guitars and collision drum hits it's not all overly American folk-ish. There is still that natural outdoor-feeling openness to its sound, but its energy and, again, Stephen's clashing of rough with focused - 'There's something ain't quite right with me/Can't seem to let you be/My love won't wait' - is what's truly compelling. And despite it too being another one of the more compact and lesser expanded tracks, 'Broken Eyes' is such a rich and charming flutter of a track. Acoustics slowly traversing across, the harmonicas of old flow through while Stephen presents a somber passage of vocals to a track that's elegantly laid-back and fortunately stripped of any unwanted extremity.

While I don't exactly hate or even dislike Two Gallants' more grungier/garage-condensed sound, the finer moments on this album come when you find the duo differentiate again in compacter additions and in some points, strip this need to electrify and burst out from the speaker holes. The track 'Decay' is a slow and delicate wander through the lonely self-reflecting isolation of a forest cabin or maybe just a dense woodland footpath, perhaps. The low moan of violins and the high sailing of distant backing vocals certainly adds depth and texture to the track, but Stephen's cautious and careful stepping of vocals remain atop it all. It's a shame then (and it's unfortunate that I even have to address a track like this as having some kind of weakness or flaw at all) that even a track of this delicacy finds itself almost retreating back to the band's partly-safe partly-knowledgeable measure of heavier guitar output and heavier beats of percussion that in most parts, kill the mood and create more of an emotional and personal take on the track, than what's needed.

I can respect tracks like 'Cradle Pyre' because this sort of music is directly to-the-point abrasive and rough in texture. It doesn't suddenly switch styles or try and attempt some kind of organic metamorphosis from one phase to another - going from soft and gentle to suddenly loud and large. The gross opportunism is withdrawn and that lack of forcing the music to instantly grow in volume, works far better than stated. The final track 'Sunday Souvenirs' is a welcome return-to-roots rummage through past folk deliverance and despite it being the ending muster to an album equally soft as it is hard, it only cements the fact and belief that the duo's folk direction works a lot better than any grunge-esque mode of expression could ever hope to be. Stephen's unison of guitar and vocals works a charm and the soft crumbly piano underneath makes for a warming ambiance to the ending minutes of the album. Even when the keys gain in pitch and lose a hint of their temperature - becoming somewhat tepid rather than comfortably warming - there's still a sense of welcoming and humbleness about the sound's ushering through.

Despite the track-lengths being uncompromisingly shorter than previous efforts Two Gallants have put together, it's not the timing or the amount the duo put into each track that sends a somewhat misguided falter running through parts of this record. Having said that, it's not all doom-and-gloom, and surprisingly, I can somewhat understand why 'The Bloom And The Blight' may have been set out from the start as Two Gallant's more polarizing record to date. Short albums can indeed be sweet, and while I'm not exactly the most knowledgeable of us MRD writers on the genre of folk, I'm pretty confident in saying that its success lies in its honesty and its approach, rather than an execution and the resulting hope of impressing people because of it. Overall, while I appreciate the structure and commend the effort put in - even if the result is somewhat a hit and miss recurrence - I am satisfied more in Two Gallants' consistency in still producing enjoyably entertaining folk-rock.
~Jordan

7.3

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