Only in the eyes of the mainstream did Country ever need to go “alt”, and the leading protagonists of early 2000s ‘Americana’ to me fell into the trap of becoming too detached from its original soul. It was like they had to make a complete break from the past, and a lot of the most beguiling Country traits became taboo.
Since then there seems to have been a kind of dropping of the guard for the better, harbingered maybe by the untainted and unabashed Country soul of Laura Cantrell’s Humming by the Flowered Vine LP, which was given the big push into credible realms by respected indie label Matador.
Then came the new young eccentrics, the likes of Colin Meloy’s Decemberists, moving out of the shadows of their heroes and pursuing new paths of folk-tinged splendour, merging a modern soul while lustfully embracing older sounds, and setting new targets for ambitious young upstarts. Indeed, The Decemberists make for an ideal reference point for the second album by Glasgow’s Le Reno Amps, which fails to move as sparklingly out of early ’00s shadows.
The Amps set out to purvey a broad and ‘eclectic’ array of musical styles from Country-inflected balladry to orchestral art-shanty, but for all So For Your Thrills’ ambition, it doesn’t quite resonate, seeming a little too polished in places to capture that lowdown country soul, and a little too stiff to consistently conjure alt magic.
A lot of So For Your Thrills falls short by dint of the Amps’ sheer proficiency, which sees them make a great job out the orchestral structure, while coming across as too polished for their own good, and as it strives for the kind of sound captured so well on The Decemberists breakthrough album Picaresque, it really does lack that vital element, that of the… well, picaresque, to really illumine it.
Songs reach for the stars with pedal steel, fiddle, banjo, mandolin, brass and fervent heart, but ultimately the record is defined by tinges of classicism over quirk, general aptness rather than moments of inspiration, and an overall kind of trad-punk prosaicness that defies the band’s greater, no doubt noble, ambition.
In the light of numerous great folk LPs of recent times, So For Your Thrills just doesn’t do it for me. The Amps need to take a step back towards futuristic magic.