March 21, 2013

Baltic Cousins – The Broken Horn

by

Baltic Cousins ::: The Broken Horn

After seeing Baltic Cousins an estimated 14,722 times in-person over the last calendar year, it was nice to get ahold of the recordings of their new stuff. While I can’t decide if I prefer The Broken Horn to some of Baltic Cousins older material (still rocking the heck out of that demo), I can string together some poorly expressed thoughts and give you the opportunity to decide for yourself. Imagine a world in which music writers are the conduit to your own positive/negative critical thinking? What media are you going blame for all your societal ills moving forward?

The Broken Horn isn’t a drastic departure from Baltic Cousins “old stuff.” In fact, “Indianapolis” is making its first “official” appearance since the band’s first demo. The band released their first single for this album a number of months ago (“Never Hold Your Breath,”). It serves as a pretty solid indicator of what awaits the listener on the rest of the album. To me, the funniest thing about the aforementioned track, is one of the lyrics describes how I approached my listening to this record. To close out the song, singer/guitarist Bradley James Lockhart exclaims, “I moved up, I moved on! You got stuck in a song!”

I know he didn’t mean to accuse me of wrong, but the allegations rang true.

In essence, I was stuck in a song. I was glued to Baltic Cousins old songs and not allowing myself to examine these compositions as a separate entity from the band’s past. How many of us are guilty of doing the same thing, but with humans….raise your hands?

The Broken Horn‘s opening track “Bear Traps” has verses that feature no steady ground. It might be the tom  fills or the wavering vocals but the track has a surprisingly sea-faring feel despite its hazardous, woodsy allusion. Once the chorus kicks in, all intentions are brought to light. You finally feel like your stuck in the Northwest, waiting for a non-existant Spring to come. While people in different parts of the country continue to post pictures of cherry-blossoms blooming on Instagram. Baltic Cousins are telling you that you’re not bitter, this cardigan malaise you’re feeling keeps you grounded. Stay level-headed and comfortable in your misery, Seattlite.

First and foremost, I love the title “He Has Smoked Bugs Before.” My reasoning is because you know there’s a good story behind a song title like that. Possible party tricks or drunken campfire behavior aside, this is a prime example of the Baltic Cousins I love. Spirited, loud, somewhat fast and celebratory for the fuck of it. “He Has Smoked Bugs Before” also has one of those moments that, “really make the song” and it happens towards the end of the track. All of the music stops and Lockhart utters the phrase, “Who’s fucking watching us?” before all of the instruments come crashing back in. I am often asking myself the same question (in the third person of course). 

The next two tracks remain mostly stationary but they have polarizing affect on the way I receive them. “Hurricane Able” is my favorite song on this album. Nika Lee’s violin multitasks efficiently by controlling the song and dressing the vocals.

I have a minor complaint to make before I go forward.

Throughout the album thus far, there have been occasions where the violin is very apparent and the listener struggles to hear Rabia Magnusson’s piano. Turn the girl’s keys up! To my own ears, this is first track where I clearly hear both instruments, intermingling in a harmonic fashion. Is this the sole reason why this is my favorite track on this album? No. However, it did not handicap its chances at endearment.

“Hurricane Able” exhibits many of the traits I tend to find attractive in a rock song. It’s short, it’s memorable and the vocals are anthemic at one point or another. I like it just the way it is, I wouldn’t change a thing. Actually, that’s a lie. I wouldn’t mind hearing the beginning guitar intro with the violin accompaniment at the very end of the song as well. I think those few seconds are really pretty and wouldn’t mind hearing it again.

On the other hand, I am not really a fan of “Mark Twain (Was There & He Was Crying).” It’s not a bad song. In fact, for some of you this might be the highlight of the record. For me, this song fails to move me for two reasons. First, it comes across like a promise never fulfilled. When I listen to it, I think something else greater is about to happen but it never does.

This is problematic because it creates a deja vu of the most unsavory variety.

During my teenage years, I got a similar feeling listening to the Fugazi album, “Steady Diet of Nothing.” This is far and away the worst Fugazi album. I’d also nominate this record as one of the worst albums ever put forth by Dischord Records. With the exception of one song, I waited that entire fucking album for something to happen…and it never did. It was audio Groundhog Day. “Never again!” I promised myself…

Secondly, the opening lyrics about symbolized romanticism morph into lines that are elegiacally blue collar. Why is this a problem? Because it reminds of that Americana/Folk explosion we experienced here in Seattle a few years ago. If you know my history with this website, you know how little I thought of that often imitated, localized artistic movement. Oddly enough it spread to record label boardrooms all over the globe. Now I can’t go to the gym without hearing Mumford and Sons over the fucking PA. When will a brother be able to watch a cellphone commercial on television without having to be subjected to the fucking Lumineers!?!

I don’t want to hear anymore songs about white guys with beards talking about being judged by the work they do with their hands. This might have something to do with coming from a household where my mother was the “handy person.” My father would stand around obviously perplexed by whatever my mother was fixing. I was over it in 2009. Give me another couple of years and maybe I’ll come back around. I realize that I am violating the very thread and fabric of American Folklore…but I don’t give a shit. It’s also quite possible that the work Lockhart was referring to wasn’t manual labor at all. If that is the case, I apologize for what your musical antecedents have ruined for you.

Are there any lessons to be learned from listening to “Junk Beach Parts One and Two”? Do I have any volunteers? No? Gentle readers, are you aware of the “Cormac McCarthy Theory of Disturbed Inspiration”? It is stated as follows: If you read a Cormac McCarthy novel at some point in your adult life, your chances of writing a good song based on the events you have read increases by an incredible 37.7% (If you suck at music, then it doesn’t matter what books you read….you suck at music.)  Baltic Cousins were aware of this esoteric theorem and used it to their advantage. They crafted a noteworthy composition and wisely broke it down into two distinct songs.

“Dead Artists” will remind you of the Decemberists immediately. I like the Decemberists so this isn’t a bad thing.  An accordion, a mandolin, a violin, a guitar playing chords that wouldn’t be out of place on Picaresque or The King is Dead. However, it’s not the music that you should be paying attention to here, it’s the realness of the lyrics. You could even argue that this might be one of the “realest” songs Baltic Cousins have ever written. This song is confrontational, honest, angry and urgent. I did not recognize its majesty until the 7th or 8th listen. It’s really a great track. One of my favorite things about listening to music is how a connection isn’t always immediate but it is everlasting. This song is an example of that.

To summarize:

* “Hurricane Able” will probably end up as one of my favorite songs of the year.

* If you’re a white guy with a beard and an acoustic guitar and you want to tell me about working with your hands, go fuck yourself.

* Never, ever remind me of Fugazi’s Steady Diet of Nothing

 * Don’t try too hard to connect with a song, let a song connect with you.

* Don’t get stuck in a song either.

* This is a strong musical effort worth owning and a band worth witnessing.

 

Baltic Cousins are having their Seattle album release show on Friday, March 22nd at the Tractor with Ravenna Woods and Lost Lander. Then the following night they’ll be rocking the Shakedown in Bellingham with Livingston Seagull and Rhombu$.

3 Comments

Hit us up.

  1. shawn kemp jr jr #

    You have too many rules and you live inside scenes Phil.I’d love to hear any shitty music you might make too btw so I can write a long rant that doesn’t matter…white,black,acoustic,electric,bearded,unable to grow beard,grunge,hip hop….blah blah blah blah blah blah keep on trollin I guess…there’s money and constructiveness there….

  2. Phil Bouie #

    Shawn Kemp Jr. Jr.,

    “Keep on trollin”? Why don’t you use your real name? Why don’t you use a period at the end of your sentences?

    Listen one of Shawn Kemp’s many children, you have obviously read one article I have written and responded in a cowardly fashion. You have no idea what kind of music I listen to. You have no idea what shows I go to (hint: I go to plenty of “folk” shows, idiot.). If I want to say a particular song reminds me of all the blue collar, stripped-down faux sensitive bullshit people like yourself have been pushing and clamoring for these last few years…then I’ll fucking do it.

    Why?

    Because that’s what I do on this website. If you have a problem with it, send me an e-mail. Better yet, seek me out at that next overly crowded show at the Tractor (If you have trouble finding me at, I’ll be the only black person there). Ask me a question in the form of a sentence. I promise I’ll respond politely. I’m from a state that believes in manners.

    Otherwise, shut the fuck up or go write a song about it. Make a folk “diss” record you pathetic, trolling geek. I’d give that a positive review, because it would be something unique and absurdly awesome.

  3. For the record, we are totally down with this sarcastic, insightful, multi-paragraphed review. The fact that one of the songs rubbed him the wrong way is perfectly alright since many more have rubbed him the right way. And though the lyrics in question weren’t exactly how Phil interpreted them… that’s ok. A huge part of art is viewer interpretation.

    If I took a close up picture of a folded forearm to bicep… but Phil told me it looked like a picture of a butt… well then maybe I will consider backing up the camera a bit next time. Or maybe I’ll say “fuck you, that’s an arm dude.”

    However you slice it, Phil has every right to call us on our moments of “Generi-cana” because honest criticism is how artists progress and how genres expand.

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