Band to Assess the State of its Union with Coast-to-coast Tour and SXSW shows in March and April
MP3: These United States – “First Sight” – www.becomeinvisible.com/players/these-united-states
Free-wheeling DC psych-folk collective These United States will release its debut album, A Picture of the Three of Us at the Gate to the Garden of Eden, via United Interests, on March 4th. With 300+ shows across the U.S. and Europe in the two short years since its formation, These United States has emerged a wide-eyed amalgamation of intricately layered lit-pop and the punk rock ethic, a band of merry pranksters led by Jesse Elliott, spinning something fiercely, unapologetically positive out of the sinking reality of an empire gone Titanic. For his project’s debut release, Elliott called on an old friend, David Strackany – known to the music world as Paleo, author and sole executor of last year’s remarkable Song Diary (365 songs in 365 days, what Paste magazine called “a streetfight of freakish prolificacy”). The result of the collaboration is a 36-minute allegorical whirlwind through time, space, and sound – think Paul Simon narrating an Andrew Bird master-minded break-in of Bowie’s near-infinite Labyrinth. Between them, Elliott and Strackany roped in upwards of 30 DC- and Midwest-based musicians, and the mixing prowess of District stalwarts Chad Clark (Beauty Pill, Smart Went Crazy, producer for Fugazi, Dismemberment Plan) and T.J. Lipple (Aloha).
“Preface: Painless,” the first track on A Picture of the Three of Us, sets out sailing on a single word, follows it immediately with one mysterious sound – which re-surfaces in waves and dreams throughout the album – and then settles down into the confident core that carries the album: uncommonly ambitious storytelling floating on a sea of masterfully subtle layered production. Indeed, Paleo’s “collage” technique borrows as much from African dub and impressionistic painting as from any tricks currently used in the new-folk universe. This approach is in full evidence on “First Sight,” a pulsing organic near-electronica word-torrent that shoots for the ever-thumping heart of Love, as seen from the first human beings on earth to the last. From underneath Elliott’s breathlessly exuberant vocal delivery, Paleo builds track after track of sound, in effect sampling all of TheseUS’s own live instruments and performances, without a fixed idea of where in a song – or even in the album as a whole – they should eventually end up. As layer after layer is painted on and then stripped away, faded up here and back down there, entire microscopic communities of sound gurgle up and die back down – the Petri dish conjures Casios and hi-hats only to have Saadat Awan’s tabla flourish triumph at the climax…and then be overtaken again by the human voice in the song’s denouement.
On “Kings & Aces,” we’re beckoned by a single French horn into Elliott’s deep dark childhood nightmare imagination, and we look on as the narrator comes of age within seconds, wanders further into the woods, stumbles somehow into a clearing, back again, forth again, all as the tangles of the forest’s avian siren eventually wrap him tight round the knees and the undergrowth overcomes. Ah, youth. It’s there again in “The Business,” an overjoyed ode to sweet resignation, living to work, and working to love in the modern white-collar world.
From there, the album grows both down into the soil and upwards into the air, ebbing and flowing an ocean’s worth in an incredibly short time. The Velvet Underground influenced “Jenni Anne” give way to the psychedelic piano lullaby “Diving Boards Pointed at the Sky.” “Burn This Bridge” could almost be mistaken for a saloon sing-along, were it not for the tribal and trembling undertones of its low tom and lyrics. “Sun Is Below & Above” serves as perhaps the most ethereal of all the tracks, a Paleo production highlight if ever there was one (and there are many). “Remember Dear” and “Slow Crows Over” bring the tide and tempo back up, chasing Elliott’s deft wordplay and rambunctious vocals as they sprint out through fields of cello, accordion, glockenspiel, mandolin, and even the underbelly of an old player piano. As their titles suggest, the album’s dark dynamic duo “So High So Low So Wide So Long” and “Only the Lonely Devil Knows,” end it all on a more existential note, as open-ended and yearning as the album itself. “Devil” is also the album’s most live performance, recorded in two takes in the middle of a frigid Chicago January night by a group of accidentally reunited friends who’d never played together before this cryptic closer.
These United States – A Picture of the Three of Us at the Gate to the Garden of Eden
1. Preface: Painless
2. First Sight
3. Kings & Aces
4. The Business
5. Jenni Anne
6. Diving Boards Pointed at the Sky
7. Burn This Bridge
8. Sun Is Below & Above
9. Remember Dear
10. Slow Crows Over
11. So High So Low So Wide So Long
12. Only the Lonely Devil Knows