Making a good folk-inflected record is tricky business. Folk music thrives on honesty and immediacy. Homemade field recordings from a living room or a back porch are its native form. This tends to yield lower fidelity, and it can be difficult to stand out from the billions of terabytes of home recordings in existence.
That's why music that builds upon the folk template is so invigorating. It can retain the intimacy and raw humanness inherent to acoustic instruments, the personal storytelling, while aspiring to higher fidelity and more ambitious sonic sculptures.
A friend of White Veins described their music as, "what would spawn out of a late night love fest between Bright Eyes and Titus Andronicus, here’s what that would look like." They also cite notorious bummer rock outfit The Antlers and the rickety avant-folk of Neutral Milk Hotel as influences.
The White Veins are built around the words and guitars of Scott Johnson, which are then fleshed out with atmospheric field recordings, buzzing synthesizers, abstract electric guitar air sculptures, upright and electric bass; wheezing organ; and gorgeous backup vocal harmonies. Everything was meticulously tracked to 24-track tape, in a breakneck three-day session, then going back to mix and fix some odds and ends. The care is obvious, when listening to A Collection Of Things That Once Brought Peace. It's raw and personal, but sounds great, and sonically ambitious.
The Bright Eyes influence is apparent in Johnson's warbling voice, and the non-stop stream-of-impressions of Johnson's lyrics. Those looking for easy hooks and sing-along choruses, think elsewhere. Instead, Johnson is pushing the envelope to write more surreal, more poetic, more personal observations, bridging the gap between the rustic and the artistic. Like Bright Eyes, a lot of the material on A Collection Of Things That Once Brought Peace is pretty dark with frequent allusions to death and suicide, like when Johnson sings, "If I live to see another summer/it'll be a goddam miracle," on album opener "Pipe Dream", or when he describes bathtub oblivion on "Dark Room Dark Thought".
This extension and revision of what is possible within the folk vernacular is very important. Folk music is ultimately by, for and about regular people. Too often, people focus on the image of the real thing, and you get white kids from the suburbs playing Delta Blues and singing "Aw shucks.” Folk musicians that touch on real issues, on depths of feelings and experiences most people won't talk about cast light on another aspect of human life, and makes it okay to talk about.
One of the most exciting aspects about the change-up of traditional record distribution is that more voices are represented - we get to hear new stories, new ideas, without the intervention of marketing. As we learn to navigate this complex digital landscape, we are getting these artistic, personal statements that still maintain a pop sensibility and quality, meaning that they are accessible to everybody.
White Veins stand poised to reach a wide audience with their folk poetry, and show the world how the other 99% live.
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