I'll Be Yours

The Americans

Incandescent Records, 2017

http://www.theamericansmusic.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/19/2017

Pop music has become so sheeny, futuristic and superficial these days that I suppose it’s no surprise to find a substantial crew of up-and-comers heading in the opposite direction, toward painstakingly vintage sounds that blow right past any notion of retro-chic to capture a vibe so old and authentic that it feels fresh and new.

The Americans make music as basic and direct as their name: urgent, rough-edged vocals, two assertive guitars, thrumming bass, big, echoey drums, and a little Hammond organ for color here and there. It’s a crackling, classicist sound, with guitars that are firm and jangly but never flashy; they’re more textural and rhythmic, with reverb and echo galore.

The group – Patrick Ferris (vocals & guitar), Zac Sokolow (guitar), and Jake Faulkner (bass), with Tim Carr contributing drums, percussion and organ here – nails a musical feel and atmosphere out of the late ’50s, a heady mixture of early rock, blues, and country. All this might only add up to a clever pose, though, without quality songs -- which these are, digging deep and exploring dark corners of the soul with a fierce and poetic flair.

Opener “Nevada” offers arcing, sparkling guitar reminiscent of Explosions In The Sky decorating a tune about running away, a nice introduction to the Americans’ distinct aesthetic. “The Right Stuff” migrates a similar tale to an even more memorable musical setting, Carr and Faulkner’s backbeat driving the song forward as Ferris sings “My heart is so heavy / I can feel it beatin’ in the dark / I’ve been keeping it together / Since we’ve been apart.” Like many of the tunes here, it feels like it was recorded live in the studio in a single raw take, especially as Ferris turns his vocals up to shred near the end, and yet it’s obviously been constructed with great attention to detail. ”Stuff” and the even more intense and sinewy “Stowaway” are where I caught flashes of The Sideshow Tragedy, a group that leans both heavier and bluesier, but has a similarly unadorned vintage vibe.

The album really hits its stride as the final thundering bars of “Stowaway” fade and we move into the title track, an acoustic ballad that’s every bit as intense even as it occupies a different musical space populated only by acoustic guitar, banjo, mandolin, upright bass, percussion and pump organ. “Was it pleasure, was it grieving / That bound me, rapt and seething, by your door,” sings Ferris as this riveting tune develops into a highlight.

Though they never fall into the trap of imitation, The Americans are confident enough to make their influences clear. “Hooky” – yet another song about running away -- channels that early rock feel even as Ferris adds a little growl to the vocals that feels like a nod to The King. On the similarly alienated “Gone At Last” (“I feel I don’t belong anywhere”), Ferris thoroughly inhabits the character he’s giving voice to, bringing a little Johnny Cash into his vocal near the end.

The last few songs further expand the group’s range: an emotional ballad with shimmering chords and a little tremble in the vocal (“Harbor Lane"); a blast of 1958-style rock and roll with country inflections (“Long Way From Home”); a bluesy tune with a nice build (“Bronze Star”) and a traditional country-folk number, all acoustic with a complicated melody and a pointed lyric (“Daphne”). The latter makes for a strong, if once again downbeat, closer (“The wind was stealing leaves / Off maple trees that night / I took one last look at you / Then you said goodbye”).

The keys to this particular and distinct kingdom, of course, lie in the aesthetic sleight-of-hand The Americans pull off here, making I’ll Be Yours feel both vintage and searing, authentic and immediate. They’ve isolated strands of rock and roll’s DNA, making space for blues, country and folk influences, and re-engineered them into something fresh and compelling.

Rating: B+

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