Things happen when bands produce their own records. There’s the chancefor dodgy self-editing, intimacy too, and, maybe, in seclusion,novelty.
What The Toll Tells could only be self-produced. Four songs top eightminutes, the vocals catch on tobacco phlegm and it sounds like no othermusic. Two Gallants – from San Francisco; named, with splendid pretension,after the Joyce story – have made a really new sound here. The basis iscountry (harp, papery drums, messy but chiming guitars), but it’s mixed witha dose of math-rock experimentation.
The songs don’t play to normalstructures: there are tempo changes, counter-rhythmical freak-outs, tracksthat are slightly – deliciously – out of time with each other. Nothing isallowed to settle for too long.
It’s not really an easy listen, but it is an exciting one, even if themath-rock element seems, as it tends to, a little cold. The first bars of16th Street Dozens alternate massive feedback and jazz scales, silence andviolent drumming – very energetic, but despite the barroom brawl the songbecomes, strangely joyless. A little too much like Gastr Del Solimprovising in a museum.
Such moments are thankfully rare, though, even if the conspicuousintellectualism continues throughout. Mostly, in fact, this is all to thegood, and fashions some really great lyrics: “The”Oh no, the sky is falling,lets all pray for rain,” goes Waves of Grain.
There’s good wit too – SteadyRollin’ frames its happy-go-lucky attitude in light-hearted murder: “I shotmy wife today / Dropped her body in the ‘Frisco bay / I had no choice.”
Even in this is the combination of sadness and bravery that marks so muchof the record. Maybe the experimentalism seems so blank because the album’semotional core is so strong elsewhere. Those words should really soundstupid, antiquated – like Jack White on his quest for manners and a goodmoustache comb – but, as on the first single Las Cruces Jail, it’s plainthat they mean what they play.
There are scarily honest performanceseverywhere on this album, and at its strongest – on Las Cruces Jail and SomeSlender Rest – the music is both richly defiant and basically lonely. It’s afine combination – not comforting, but enthralling. And if the album hasflaws, it has great and unique strengths. Difficult, maybe, butcaptivating.