It’s only been two years since their first release, But These United States has just completed What Lasts, their fourth, and most thoughtful, album. On their debut, 2008’s A Picture of the Three of Us at the Gate to the Garden of Eden, the vocal chords of Jesse Elliott can be too-easily compared to M. Ward. And because much of the music on it is made up of effects and other sonically psychedelic ideas courtesy of Elliott’s collaboration with David Strackany (aka Paleo), it was less telling of what the future would bring for this band than it was an experiment of musical collaboration.
There is nothing wrong with being eccentric, odd, or goofy in the music world; eccentricity has worked wonders for everyone from George Clinton to Devo to Frank Zappa to avant-garde jazz explorers like Ornette Coleman, Roscoe Mitchell, and Anthony Braxton. But there is a way to go about it, and These United States have a reputation for trying a little too hard when it comes to getting in touch with their inner oddball. Their work can be overly self-conscious -- and on What Lasts, which is These United States' fourth full-length studio album, they continue to sound like they are trying a bit too hard.
Lacks a punch The first thing one inevitably notices about D.C.-based folksters These United States is their singer, Jesse Elliott. The frontman’s vocals have a tendency to tremble earnestly, especially on “Nobody Can Tell,” the opener to the group’s latest album, What Lasts. Delivered in his choppy singing style, some of his lyrics, like “I admit I miss my pops and all the trash he talks / If I make it back alive I’m gonna give him all my thoughts” are poignant in their sincerity.
These United States’ lead singer Jesse Elliot has a scratchy, affected voice—maybe a super-strung-out Ryan Adams, if you’re looking for a point of reference—which makes for a varied listening experience: Sometimes you want it to lead you to the Promised Land (“Just This”), sometimes you just want to make it stop (“Ever Make You Mine”). TUS are a tight band, with a broad range of musical influences; everything from Americana, the blues, country rock, roots and maybe a hint of jazz make their way into its sound. And the artistry is there—each song is brimming with character.