Right. Hands up if anyone knows what ‘anti-folk’ really is? Something to do with those guys dressed up in funny costumes a few years ago, right? Some kind of obscure uber-hip New York sub genre intended to mock and subvert traditional forms of folk music? A bunch of bearded hipsters recording on a four-track?
Well, actually, you’d be pretty spot-on with any of these guesses. Momentarily brought to public attention by The Moldy Peaches in 2002, anti-folk was the low-fi, self-mocking alternative to the eternally serious Strokes and Interpols of the time – and seemed to die a quick death when the so-called American invasion abated. However, anti-folk is forcing its way back into the mainstream – English acts like Emmy the Great and Fyfe Dangerfield, alongside American trailblazers Herman Dune and Regina Spektor are making the quirky genre pretty modish, and carried in their jetsteam comes the fantastically bearded Turner Cody, pitching up from Williamsburg with a guitar and a case full of impressive tunes.
Now on his sixth record, the East Villager has built up an impressive cache of cool friends – not only did he take up occasional bass duties with the samba-tinged ‘Dune, he also ‘starred’ as a psychopathic Bonnie Prince Billy in the video for Jeffrey Lewis’ bizarre Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror – youtube it if you don’t believe me. And not only has the chap a sense of humour (and did I mention the lustrous beard?) but he’s also an excellent songwriter to boot – a kind of Townes Van Zandt for the ipod generation.
Actually recorded in 2005 – Quarter Century is as timeless and eclectic as the best of the antifolk scene – producer David Herman Dune, whose recent record Giant is one of this year’s best, gives the recording the kind of ramshackled polish that was missing from his earlier recordings. Lead single Suzzanah is surprisingly lush, with mariachi trumpets and double basses replacing the simple finger picking of previous record The Class Act.
Cody has a wonderful turn of phrase when he wants to, the wonderful Suzzanah, again, sees Cody lazily imagining a Arcadian world where there are “jangles in the mangroves with banjos in the breeze”, as he offers the advice “Listen to me brother, and I’ll tell you a thing or two, I’ve studied cool bastards, and I know what to do”. Sometimes his idiosyncratic dexterity with words recalls Bob Dylan’s fertile mid-60’s period, and it’s no surprise Turner moonlights as a beat poet between records.
The country twang of I’ll Be Home has the same kind of worldly hopefulness of a Woody Guthrie or Johnny Cash record – a disarmingly simple chord progression “I don’t know what you grew before/ The giants and the unicorns/ But the trumpets are blowing in a minor chord” and Final Time For Leaving is a swooning love song that recalls Billy Bragg – just with a voice that doesn’t grate quite as much. Title track Quarter Century is a wonderful barroom waltz, with Turner singing of “Gin and senioritis” over a jazzy trumpet score.
Of course – if all this sounds a little twee you’d be forgiven for approaching Quarter Century with a little trepidation – certainly the last few tracks on the album can drain the patience – but persevere and you’ll find a songwriter working at the top of his game, charming, witty and cooler than any number of suit-jacketed Television worshippers. Hold on to your hats, kids, looks like anti-folk’s finally arrived.