We write from our hearts, which happens to be something that we strongly demand from any bands that are covered on these blog pages. There are few rules to earn your place on The Recommender, except that you have to be bloody good and write your music with integrity. If we like you then we write you, and today’s recommendation has our hearts properly hooked. We’re certainly not the first online commentators to point this duo out to people, because they’ve enjoyed a building swarm of online coverage as we lead up to their debut album. They’ve earned the jump from our queue to our pages, because in this particular case the hype is well deserved and so this is one giant swarm that we can be seen sprinting into the centre of. You can expect this duo to start owning 2012 as their debut album, Rise Ye Sunken Ships, finally got released this week delivering their special brand of authentic, mature song craft.
The duo used to be in the now-disbanded group, Pela, who only managed one and a half albums before giving up, but rather than lay defeated and dormant they’ve clearly picked up the lessons and two of it’s members reformed as We Are Augustines to realise their obvious talents. The whole album has the feel of one last chance, a final leap, a last bullet fired from a shaking hand, but they’ve absolutely hit their target. In all honesty, much of America’s alternative rock music is best avoided, drenched in macho sweat and over-sized posturing, often seeming dated, although admittedly often selling millions of albums, but mostly to housewives in the mid-west. Nickleback anyone? What is interesting with this new Brooklyn duo is that at first glance you might consider them for that same mid-rock shelf, as you get the same over-sized, epic scale, with open guitar chords and Billy McCarthy up front delivering familiar husky, smokes-way-too-much vocals synonymous with mid-rock. And yes, just like everyone else from that genre (that we just made up for the convenience of this article) all roads seem to lead back to Bruce Springsteen, but in this particular case it’s a positive attribute, with tales of broken lives, the underdog fight and steely grit, but where most bands blindly deviate upon paths of masculine cliches, We Are Augustines actually channel Springsteen as if they were drunk from gallons of his bottled spirit.
Sure it’s aiming high, fist-pumping and stadium-sized even, but they never lose sight of the melody and craft, realising, much in the same way Arcade Fire have, that the trick with Springsteen is that his songs have grip and they drag you along with them, usually by your heart. Try out the exceptional Book Of James and you will witness just how strong their traction can get, it’s impossibly good and their most Arcade Fire-induced moment on the album. This is rock music that also has deep roots in americana, with honest, soulful, lugubrious artistry that’s often found in that genre. Songs stir you at your core, rousing your inner spirit as if listening to a religious preacher, which may be in part due to them having recorded some of it in a church – another trick utilised by Arcade Fire. McCarthy’s lyrics often expose his heart to the listener, as he sings of personal experiences, such as the death of both his mother at a relatively young age and the suicide of his brother, as he screams of “brotherly love” on Philadelphia or “You’re losing the shape that your in” on Patton State Hospital. He also paints touching images with words, as he sings of “tearing up photographs” having missed out on the girl, on the tune Chapel Song, or “Fell asleep with a cigarette, to the flicker of a tv set” on Augustine. This is an album for the wordsmith as much as it is the songsmith.
The instrumentation is also packed with wonderful ebbs and flows, with brass and even electronic touches darting in and out, and with their cover of Crooked Fingers‘ New York Drink For The Old Drunk, or with Patton State Hospital, we see them knocking out the kind of racing snare drum rattle that is designed to raise the heartbeat and leave you breathless. Some songs sprint, whilst other meander beautifully, with Strange Days feeling more like a Tom Petty pop song. Sure they often sings of heartache and of loss and of misusing drugs, but they otherwise miss the obvious minefield of cliches, instead treading cleverly through common topics without putting a foot wrong. By the time you reach Barrel Of Leaves, you even get their most Eels-esque moment of melancholy sadness, as they offer a final out-stretched helping hand, whether it’s to his brother, or to this reformed band is unknown, but it’s suitably touching either way. Essentially we have a vulnerable story and the protagonists deliver on both ends of the spectrum – whether wide open and brave or introspectively dark and heartfelt. We applaud their ability to produce a rock album, of a kind that usually has us Brits running from the overweight scale of it all, but if you want musicians to write from their hearts then you won’t get many albums cut as wide open as this. (MB)
WE ARE AUGUSTINES – BOOK OF JAMES
WE ARE AUGUSTINES – HEADLONG INTO THE ABYSS