It has been a long five years since we last heard anything from San Francisco folk rock duo Two Gallants. The duo of singer and guitarist Adam Stephens and drummer Tyson Vogel return with a fourth album that sees them reinvigorated and newly energised. The Bloom And The Blight is primarily a stirring rock record that provides a marked contrast to much of their gentler previous material.
From the opening guitar thrust of Halcyon Days, it is clear that there has been something eating Two Gallants over the course of their five-year absence. The record is brimming with visceral power. Perhaps some tumultuous events affecting the band members, including a near fatal van crash for Stephens in 2010 and the band being reportedly tasered by police following a noise complaint at a show in Houston, Texas, have contributed to the intensity that ripples throughout the record. You can certainly here it in the coruscating howl of Stephens’s voice, which frequently brings to mind the anguished rage of Kurt Cobain.
Despite a more powerful guitar based sound The Bloom And The Blight is still very much identifiable as a Two Gallants record. The lyrical themes cover much the same ground as usual. Spirituality, redemption and numerous biblical references abound, nowhere more explicitly than on Song Of Songs with its references to, “the song of Solomon upon her lips” and “the Jordan river in her graveyard hips” As with much of the material here it is a corrosive grunge rock song.
There is an impressive power generated by the duo on the many rock tracks that feature here. Producer John Congleton has played a significant role in harnessing a more aggressive sound. The guitars have a satisfying crunch throughout yet the formula wears ever so slightly thin over the course of the album. All the duo’s subtlety and melodic skills are somewhat obliterated by thrashing guitars. Fortunately, there are a core of tracks that hark back to their early days in their sheer loveliness.
Broken Eyes offers a very welcome reflective interlude. The sound is stripped right back to a simple acoustic guitar and harmonica while the harmonies are allowed to soar. There remains a great joy in Two Gallants bruised and heartfelt acoustic yearning and it is just a pity that it is only fleetingly heard here. The somnambulant hum of Decay is similarly gorgeous, perfectly evoking the atmosphere of a late summer California sunset.
The bludgeoning power of Winter’s Youth is perhaps the track that best represents the records fierce invective, lyrics describing, “your life upon the shelf” and a slightly dark tale of, “your mother slammed the door, don’t wanna hear no more”. Cradle Pyre is the most straightforward indie rock song here, a rollicking express train of a track careering to an uncertain finish.
The record closes with a final welcome moment of understated emotion. You get the sense that Sunday Souvenirs represents Two Gallants at their truest and, probably, best. The lyrics are supremely touching as Stephens sings about, “memories of what I gave away.”
The Bloom And The Blight certainly fulfils its duty in reminding us of Two Gallants innumerable talents but it feels like a conflicted, confused record. The commitment to developing their sound into urgent and strident rock is commendable yet the execution leaves you cold at times.