As recommended to me, this is a superb album and I'm glad I've listened to it ahead of seeing the band play tonight.
Compared with the other two reviewed on this blog, there is more of the same in the dark, brooding storytelling and the slow maudlin melodies that ache to their narratives. In addition, however, is the punkgrunge of tracks like Ft Lewis, Muddy Conscience and Pinkerton and I look forward to hearing similar pummeled at me live. One song, Mule, has a punktease intro and further punctuation within, but has moments that slow to the pedal steel lament of Paul Brainard.
Two favourites are Cascade and Fifteen Year Old Kid in Nogales, Mexico. In both there is a frantic acoustic guitar that drives the song, and in the first this is paired with sweet mandolin, and in the second the pace slows suddenly to pedal steel accompaniment to lament the pathos in the revealing of the boy's youth in this darkish tale [he was only fifteen, he was only fifteen] . Both stories are about young guys experiencing the harsh realities of a world driven by betrayal and indifference amongst its many other hurdles.
Frontman Willy Vlautin hails from Portland, Oregon, and reviewers of his music and writing always cite the dark influence of the Pacific Northwest [*]. I have family who live in Portland, but most of my family live in Southern Oregon, and in both cases the respective cosmopolitan aspects of the city and the beauty of landscape are prevalent memories. In this respect, Vlautin's northwest world isn't one I recognise - though he makes it palpably real in whichever genre he recreates it - but in terms of evoking the bleak and stagnant lives of small-town America I do empathise and it reminds me of why I left all those years ago.
[*] Since writing this I remembered [as I should having read two of his novels, and listened to many songs now] that his writing essentially reflects experiences in Nevada - born in Reno - and New Mexico, so my observations about Oregon are not that surprising, nor relevant, but the learning curve keeps arcing! However, my experiences of growing up in Nebraska and Iowa, and a brief terrible experience/time in Michigan, support my observation about small-town America.