It Was No One, by Brooklyn brothers Andrew and Michael Coffman, could easily be one of the shortest album reviews I've written all year. Although I don't like to tell people what to do or think, I can, with no hesitation, tell you that if you like the blasted druggie outlaw country of Johnny Cash; the Old Testament prophesies of Leonard Cohen; haunted desert drifters like The Handsome Family; or explosive folk fury a la Bright Eyes/Conor Oberst, you simply have to hear this stunning debut.
That is all.
That, however, would be a hasty mistake, and would overlook many of the nuances that make It Was No One such a goddam sensational record.
Earwax, as previously hinted at, plays predominantly a doomy, heavy, apocalyptic folk blues rock. Most songs are built around a pallet of interweaving acoustic guitars, and a small folk orchestra of banjos, mandolins, violins, trumpets and electric pianos. Songs begin as traditional folksy song forms, only to slowly spin and spiral and drift away from center in jaw-dropping snowstorms and kaleidoscopes of orchestral grandeur, meeting a WW I battalion of a rhythm section, while layers and layers of acoustic guitar meet and dance and twine around one another like a grape trellis all the while. To put it simply, if you're familiar with the band at all, Earwax might start with a haunting Johnny Cash or The Handsome Family folk song, but quickly crescendos into instrumental orchestral crescendos of post-rock bands like Rachel's, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, or A Silver Mt. Zion.
Like many of those bands, Earwax ia adept at creating ornate acoustic sculptures from wire and wood and string. Every sound is utterly authentic, ringed in room-sound, unable to have come from any other where or when. It's folk art taken to ridiculously high aspirations, like building Notre Dame out of thatch or pop sticks.
But even then, comparing Earwax to the "this + this" school of music journalism would still overlook what is so striking about Earwax. While it's clear they have a love for a number of modern experimental folk outfits, they don't strike me like a couple of dudes who heard a Bright Eyes record and decided to buy a guitar. The Coffman brothers' vocals speak of too much experience - rough and ragged, torn and bleeding.
Similarly, they are instrumental prodigies on a number of stringed instruments. Every note is perfectly poised and placed, forming beautiful glistening crystal sculptures in your imagination. Of all the bands I have heard trickling out of the underground (too many to even think of), I can easily and honestly say that Earwax has the highest potential of exploding and becoming the hugest acoustic rock band on the planet, if people were to hear them.
And I don't like hype, remember.
It Was No One is just that kind of record that seems to raise your ire. It'll have you punching the air in the dead of night, rubbing your chin, going for walks at 3 a.m. It's the kind of record that makes you want to contact high school friends you haven't talked to in years, just to help shift another copy or two (and of course, just to frantically gush).
There are almost too many great songs to count. Some will find it overlong at a mighty 14 tracks, but I find the album to work like a movie's traditional three-part structure - beginning, climax, wind-down. You can always take an intermission, make some popcorn and use the bathroom. By way of introduction, if you'd like to hear some of the doomy blasted folk/country, try album opener "Arise The Worm." Check "No Regrets" if you want to hear the band in full tilt orchestral meltdown. And spare a moment for the Postal Service pop of "Lost My Way" just to remind you that you truly don't know what you'll get with the Coffman brothers. Truly anything could happen.
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