Album Reviews

The Kamikaze Hearts – Oneida Road

(Tangled Up) UK release date: 19 March 2007

This was an unexpected joy. Tangled Up are a new UK label and because they are new, are so desperate for publicity they are sending lots of CDs through the post to ME. I’m so grateful they did though, as otherwise this masterpiece of pastoral, gothic, soulful, miraculous Americana might have passed by.

The Kamikaze Hearts are a bunch of bearded hipsters who apparently live on farms near Albany, NY. Their first UK release is one that must be heard by all fans of My Morning Jacket (who they are better than) and Midlake (who they are not quite as good as). Here we have nine mournful tunes � Appalachian-tinged mini-symphonies with mandolin to the fore � dealing in equal measures with massive, mythical America and the domestic intricacies of boy-girl relationships. Love, the frontier, mandolins, beards�yep all the boxes are ticked. Perfection.

Top Of Your Head offers an intriguing glimpse of what Steve Earle‘s excellent Copperhead Road album might have sounded like had he recorded it today, in the midst of the scruffy and unkempt production standards being so fabulously upheld by bands like the Kamikaze Hearts. Many artists in recent years have attempted to commit to record the true sound of America’s desolate mountains and plains, but none have succeeded quite like this. Then again, they are all farmers.

Farmers with a stunning collective gift for melody. Defender, Wolfert’s Roost and Deer Hunter are so effortlessly gentle, lovely and subtle, one thinks one is hearing some classic track by, say, Simon and Garfunkel or more accurately, Neil Young.

Here is proof, in an American folk-world where sadly defunct noodlers Nickel Creek rightly thrive (I suppose), that simplicity and heart are infinitely more arresting to a listener that virtuosity. None of the Kamikaze Hearts are particularly clever musicians, but seem to have an understanding of what goes where, that often less is more, and that its ok to play with your eyes closed. It sounds like an album they would perform, and the listener would absorb, with eyes closed.

But you’d open them about ten seconds into Defender. For it is this track that shows the bizarre nature of this band’s vocals. Bob Buckley and Troy Pohl compliment each other, by one being fairly drawly and normal in a Jay Farrar kind of way, and the other having one of the oddest voices you’ll hear. Like an aged and withered Kermit the Frog, Pohl sings from the back of his throat with an introspective, almost apologetic reserve. Slightly chilling.

The album closes with the epic Guyana Central High School Class of ’78, a slow, relentless mandolin-driven opus that ends with a fade out of such beauty as to possess you to jump on a plane, hell, even swim to Albany, find the Kamikaze Hearts, sit on their porch with them and watch the sunset.

Ahem, backing away from such gushing sentimentality, merely let it be said that here we have a small, unheralded band who can join Vetiver and Midlake in proving that coast-to-coast, American alt-folk is in spectacular shape. Please everyone, hear this.

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The Kamikaze Hearts – Oneida Road