Reviews: Uncle Lucius take a collaborative approach on latest; Dikes of Holland's flood of energy
On the first song on its new album, "And You Are Me" (out Aug. 28 on eOne) Austin-based roots rock outfit Uncle Lucius sings of existential resignation — birth, life, death, rebirth. With galloping drums, bottomed out horns and even a hint of Southern metal, it's sharper and more ambitious than the self-released 2009 album "Pick Your Head Up."
Not that it's a complete departure. "Liquor Store," the centerpiece of "Pick Your Head Up," delivered gloomy, self-destructive blues with sandpaper guitars and sultry backup vocals. That song represented a trajectory that the band has been on since its founding in 2006, when it embraced a mellower brand of Southern soul.
"It's a little more distinctive, trying to home in on our sound as opposed to just paying homage to influences," says bassist Hal Vorpahl.
That effort is also marked by a few changes. The band recently added a new member, and, for the first time, they wrote songs together. For previous efforts, each member would bring their own songs nearly finished.
"It takes a lot more to fit five people's opinions and views into one song, as opposed to just working out the rhythm," Vorpahl says.
A higher level of collaboration doesn't preclude the band's exploration of different sounds. Though that first track, "Set Ourselves Free," sets the tone for the rest of the record, the band's embrace of the darker side of things veers off in a variety of directions.
On the album's first single, "Pocket Full of Misery," the band turns up the soul as defined by the Stone's "Exile on Main Street": boozy blues lit up with a larger-than-life horn section. Similar to Austin's Band of Heathens, Uncle Lucius takes a band by committee approach to their music, especially on display on "Rosalia," with members trading verses.
"Willing Wasted Time" nods to psychedelic rock with slow-motion vocals and a thick layer of mind-twisting guitar that bounces around the song with abandon. "Keep the Wolves Away," which was penned by lead singer and guitarist Kevin Galloway, offers a Springsteen-like tale of illness and financial struggle courtesy of oil refineries; it also represents one of the more poignant moments of gravity and personal detail on the album.
On other songs, such as "New Drug," which was written by keyboardist Jon Grossman, the different personalities of the band shine through. The song peaks with gospel frenzy as Grossman beckons, "Raise your hand!" Vorphal's "Just Keep Walking" follows, swaying with a slow growl as he testifies to being lost and found.
If there were any question that the members of Uncle Lucius aren't afraid to embrace their struggles, closer "I Am You," a ballad that finds Galloway, with an assist from strings, answers directly: "I've learned how to laugh in spite of it all/and now I'm thankful for the troubles/yes I'm thankful/for the troubles, and the trials and the heartaches and all of the tears."
Uncle Lucius plays Aug. 25 at Antone's with Not In the Face.
Dikes of Holland
"Don't tell me what you did last night!" howl seemingly several members of Dikes of Holland at once on "Streetwalker," the opening track on "Braindead USA," and one thinks that, given the title and the request, you probably shouldn't. They never sound violent, but they do sound like a band that will cut loose on stage, spend every ounce of energy and then mope with a beer for the rest of the evening. Their first album, "Dikes of Holland," was a thrilling head-scratcher that recalled such kitchen-sinkers as Thinking Fellers Union Local 282.
If the first album was exploring where the band could go, "Braindead" picks a path and races down it, delivering something more refined and more streamlined (and frankly, more 1977 garage-punkish) than the first album's spatter. Nonetheless, "Braindead USA" is a ramshackle scorcher with 12 songs zipping by in a half-hour of frantic chordings, demolition-derby drumming and trebly soloing. Singer Elizabeth Herrera has become a vital cog, her vaguely Exene-style wail turning the crank on such chewy nuggets as "City Feet," "Meat Eaters" and "Kinky Parents." Actually, the latter two are downright X-ish, as if John Doe and Exene had never entirely left garage and Billy Zoom was getting more overwhelmed by the fumes with every downstroke. Close the window, inhale deeply and turn it up.
— Joe Gross
Jennifer Moore, the vocalist/organist for Austin-based Deep Time, bends her voice, rolling out tongue-twisting lyrics, sometimes with a sense of desperation, at other times as a detached observer. At all times she maintains a tightly controlled tension, at once calm and powerful. Together with drummer Adam Jones, the duo excels at creating gloomy, quirky pop. On their first album since changing their name from Yellow Fever, the band crafts a world slightly askew, populated with campy, foreboding keyboards, weird tempo changes and vocal runs, and hard to resist hooks.
There is a Hitchcockian air of suspense about the whole thing. On "Bermuda Triangle," a staccato bass line couples with slow-rolling drums to create a sense of nervousness as Moore gently sings, "oooh, today the sky broke down." "Sgt. Sierra" simmers with ticking-clock percussion; midway through, Moore interrupts with a series of looped yelps and howls. Obtuse moments are balanced with the more direct and emotional "Homebody," where Moore announces "I'm leaving home and I want you to notice." The pain is physical on "Marathon," where she talks of feeling the road in her bones. That road extends into the closing song, "Horse." With a midsong instrumental that mimics the title animal, the band reaffirms their sense of humor.
"High, Wide & Handsome"
Just three years ago, the Trishas weren't even an official band. The four women — Savannah Welch, Jamie Wilson, Kelley Mickwee and Liz Foster — got together for a three-song performance at a tribute to Welch's father. Soon after that, gig offers began pouring in. It's no surprise — it's hard not to be charmed by the group's harmonies and warm, roots/country sound. They effectively communicate those charms on their new full-length, "High Wide and Handsome."
On it, the group, whose members share songwriting duties, walks the line between contemporary country, gospel and the roots-leaning sound of groups like the Dixie Chicks, Alison Krauss and the Civil Wars. Opener "Mother of Invention" beckons a learning-about-yourself sing-a-long, while "Sweet Little Cigars" swings with a western shuffle. "Liars & Fools" leans bluegrass with a fiddle, while "Cheater's Game" would fit in fine on country FM. The album takes a sultry turn with the smoky "One Down" and the quiet jazz number "Cold Blooded Love" before wrapping things up with the stripped-down, folk gospel of "Gold & Silver," demonstrating that regardless of style, they do just fine with just their voices.