Release Date: Feb 25, 2014
Record label: Drag City
Genre(s): Experimental, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Post-Rock, Experimental Rock, Indie Folk
New Bums' full-length debut, Voices in a Rented Room, sounds like it was written and recorded during the alcoholic fugue state of a lost weekend, inspired by the roomy strums and mordant narratives of Bob Dylan's Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid soundtrack and the second side of Guns N' Roses' G N' R Lies. It's loose and sparse, with a cocky confidence that comes with letting the music be something small, not filling all the space with reverb or gratuitous instrumentation. There's a commitment to showcasing the songs themselves, even when the lyrics are as silly as “You only get fucked in Pigeon Town” and “Your girlfriend might be police.
For many musicians, the act of picking out a tune on an acoustic guitar and singing along is the easiest, most pleasurable, and therapeutic thing in the world. And, not coincidentally, it’s also the most tired and clichéd mode of performance, one forever associated with egregiously earnest, coffeehouse-scented singer-songwriter hokum. As products of the post-millennial West Coast acid-folk insurgence, Ben Chasny and Donovan Quinn have spent a great deal of the past decade reinstating the acoustic guitar as an agent of experimentalism rather than sentimentalism: Under his nom de psych, Six Organs of Admittance, Chasny has amassed a formidable catalogue of string-and-mind-bending ragas, while Quinn has used his unplugged instrument as a springboard into more fantastical realms with the Skygreen Leopards.
New Bums is the collaborative project of guitar wielding duo Ben Chasny (Six Organs of Admittance) and Donovan Quinn (of the lesser known but equally good psych-folkers Sykgreen Leopards). For those familiar with their previous work New Bums may come as a surprise, as the meeting of these normally kaleidoscopic minds has stripped away most of the psychedelic tendencies to leave what sounds suspiciously like a straight-up folk album. Voices in a Rented Room doesn’t seem high on anything, other than maybe several beers.
Voices in a Rented Room, the first album from New Bums, the collaborative duo of Ben Chasny (Six Organs of Admittance, Rangda, Comets on Fire) and Donovan Quinn (Skygreen Leopards), is a dark, subdued, and occasionally funny affair somewhere between ramshackle loner folk and carefully crafted sonic portraits. The album's incredibly spare 12 songs are made up primarily of dual vocals and guitars from both singers, occasionally peppered with muted percussion or the odd string arrangement, as with the gloriously sad Big Star-recalling "Sometimes You Crash. " The opening strains of "Black Bough" come off like the same syrupy-slow depressive folk narratives of Smog or off-kilter lyrical brilliance of the Silver Jews, and songs like this one and the sad-eyed Appalachian lurch of "Burned" certainly do sway more in the stylistic direction of those artists.
Donovan Quinn and Ben Chasny don’t necessarily seem like they would fit together the way they have as New Bums. Quinn’s work with the Skygreen Leopards certainly shares a love of psychedelia with any of Chasny’s work (Six Organs of Admittance, Comets on Fire, Rangda, and so on), but the Leopards kicked western dust up with country-folk boots while Chasny’s work tends to rise above, coating itself in stardust if anything. These two separate approaches would seem to make the duo’s new project a challenge, but New Bums sounds charmingly effortless, and Voices in a Rented Room provides a soft-spoken, laid-back set of acoustic tunes to dig into.
Most artists seem to gravitate towards one of two poles: either insular perfectionism, characterised by limited, painstakingly assembled releases that are anticipated with bated breath; or instead to the kind of prolific creative output that sees recording output multiple roughly with the number of shows they play. Ben Chasny is the latter. Since 1998, the guitarist and singer has put out roughly two albums every year, either under his solo moniker Six Organs Of Admittance, or as part of one of his multiplying collaborative projects (Comets On Fire, Rangda, 200 Years).
New Bums reside in a world where acoustic guitars pluck out gentle melodies to accompany whispery vocals. The voices sound sweet but the words don’t necessarily follow suit. They tell tales of hanging with killers, of a girlfriend who might work for the Fuzz, or offer an introduction to a branch of the armed forces, which might be metaphorical rather than literal.
Sabina Sciubba, the lead singer for Brazilian Girls, sets aside her last name and switches production style but not persona on her solo debut album, “Toujours.” She’s still the nonchalant, elusive, sophisticated and resolutely hedonistic figure she plays in Brazilian Girls songs. And Sabina ….