Release Date: Sep 4, 2012
Record label: ATO
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter
A great deal happened for the San Francisco indie folk duo Two Gallants in the five years that followed the release of their self-titled third album. The band went on hiatus for a while, guitarist Adam Haworth Stephens and drummer Tyson Vogel each released solo albums, and in 2010, Stephens nearly lost his life in a van accident while on tour in Wyoming. Returning to active duty in 2012, Two Gallants are a changed band on The Bloom and the Blight, or at the very least, they've given their studio approach a serious overhaul.
A lot can happen in five years, and Two Gallants’ first record in as much time captures the wonderfully complicated dichotomy that accompanies life’s more anguished possibilities. At times, The Bloom and the Blight offers straightforward, weeping folk, like on the harmonica-driven lead-single “Broken Eyes.” But Two Gallants stand out from a sea of folksy mopesters thanks to their aggressive turns, at times invoking metal-esque proportions with fierce guitar riffs, assertive drums and vocals dripping with raw honesty. .
Here are Two Gallants, let us call one of them Bloom and the other one Blight. Of course, these are interchangeable, and after five albumless years there is bound to be a good helping of both within their pages. And it has not necessarily been an easy few years for the pair, but with the release of the duo's fourth album and a return to touring, what better time to take stock of their achievements thus far? The Bloom and the Blight is a concise album to say the least, and features none of the signature emotional meanderings of old.
As an Americana-infused grunge duo with equal parts East Coast Piedmont Blues guitar underpinnings and a dyed in the wool punk rock aesthetic, San Francisco’s Two Gallants spent the better part of a decade carving out a particularly unique niche amongst indie rock acts. Releasing a steady stream of critically heralded if ultimately underappreciated albums in the aughts, culminating in their most fully realized and well-executed 2007 self-titled release, the group mined territory their less traditional music-obsessed peers mostly chose to ignore. They also provided Grade A blogosphere material on a couple of occasions.
Five years is a long sabbatical in the music world, whether it’s pop, rock, or indie. So, possibly even fans of Two Gallants’ previous three albums might not have thought they would see another from the San Francisco bred duo. But it takes more than a half decade layoff to quiet childhood friends guitarist/singer Adam Stephens and drummer Tyson Vogel as they come roaring back for what is arguably their finest, and surely their best sounding release.
In James Joyce’s short story “Two Gallants,” Lenehan waits for Corley to finish his rendezvous with a maid by eating a plate of peas at the “Refreshment Bar.” While staring into the empty gaze of the plate of peas, he ponders upon his aimless life. He will turn 31 in November and has yet to find a decent job. “Experience had embittered his heart against the world.” He has no one to turn to but his fellow gallant Lenehan.
What can save the skinny-indie-white-boy blues? When the paeans of wooden fence post and swaying wheat stalk and love longed-for and lost no longer ring sweet on the ears of the folk gods, what’s a band like Two Gallants to do? This is the call to action that lies implicit in the duo’s fourth LP, The Bloom and the Blight, a record that pulls an angry black leather jacket over the scratchy flannel shirt of yesteryear. Two Gallants never were the orthodox folk duo – their debut and best album The Throes was more a precursor to the rural garage sound of Titus Andronicus on The Monitor than your standard acoustic affair – but the heavy distortion that permeates this new effort comes off as combative, come-hell-or-high-water. Dressing up the ballade form and the band’s hit-or-miss lyrics with a rawer sound is the record’s thesis.
Two Gallants are stripping down. To get an idea of the overall tightness of The Bloom and the Blight, the San Francisco-based guitar/drums duo’s first album since 2007’s self-titled, it should be noted that at 33 minutes, it’s an entire 25 minutes shorter than 2006’s What the Toll Tells and only five longer than the 2007 EP The Scenery of Farewell. Additionally, save for that weird submerged organ sound on “Willie” and the piano on “Sunday Souvenirs”, you’ll find little here but Adam Stephens’s vocals, his guitar, and Tyson Vogel’s drums — no cello, violin, double-bass, or anything else that might have found its way into those aforementioned releases or 2004’s The Throes.
In his 1997 book Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes, Greil Marcus devised the term "the old, weird America" to describe the strange world that Dylan and the Band evoked in The Basement Tapes. It became such a popular and usefully evocative phrase that by the time his publisher issued an updated paperback edition in 2011, the original title had been dropped altogether in favor of the popular quote. In his new introduction, Marcus notes the change and remarks that "The Old, Weird America" was his original title for book, although it was rejected by both his U.S.
It’s been five years since Two Gallants last released their last album, and taking a glance at the artwork for ‘The Bloom And The Blight’ it seems they’ve spent their hiatus shrinking into children. The image of the duo as youngsters is a nice little accompaniment to the sounds of the album, evoking a kind of innocence you wish you still had once you get old. This feeling comes back more than once during ‘The Bloom And The Blight’; ‘Broken Eyes’ early on in the record is a soft, country love song, with earnest harmonicas (yes, harmonicas can be earnest) and an age-old reference to the “girl with the broken eyes”.
The two-piece carves out a distinctive, powerful identity all of its own. James Skinner 2012 Two Gallants’ Adam Stephens and Tyson Vogel have been making music together since they were 12-years-old, and friends since they were only five. One assumes that's them on the album cover. Following a five-year hiatus in which they both released solo efforts and Stephens suffered a serious van accident, this record is viewed as a “passage into adulthood”.