Tuesday, May 1, 2018

We Are The West: “The Golden Shore” (2018) CD Review

The Golden Shore is the debut full-length release from We Are The West, an unusual and wonderful folk group based in Los Angeles (though I hesitate to call it folk, for the word doesn’t quite relate the scope of what these guys do). At the core of this project is the duo of Brett Hool on vocals and guitar and John Kibler on bass and vocals, along with Elizabeth Goodfellow on drums and vocals. You might know Elizabeth from her work with Iron & Wine or from her solo work (she recently released a cassette – yes, cassette). This album also has plenty of guest musicians adding to the sound. The Golden Shore features all original material, written by Brett Hool and John Kibler. Though this is the band’s first full-length album, these guys have released four EPs over the past several years, and apparently have an ongoing monthly gig in a parking garage in Santa Monica. From what I’m hearing, it sounds like something I need to check out.

The album opens with “Siren,” which begins with a haunting, eerie vibe, the sounds of whales, the ocean, the creaking of a mast, and you get the sense of it being dark and deep. The sounds immediately let you know that the siren of the song’s title is not traveling along a city street but is in mythological territory. A folk sound emerges from that, a kind of almost sweet, comforting sound, which has an intriguing effect. Jesse Olsen Bay plays accordion on this track. “You rely on me/Like a child calling/And I say I'm falling/But do you catch me?” It’s interesting that the song leaves us with a question. This is a group to pay attention to. That’s followed by “The Golden Shore,” the album’s title track. This one too has some slightly unsettling sounds at the beginning, rising above the bass line. This is a track I’ve listened to many times, because there is a lot going on here. First of all, I’m a total sucker for cello, and there are actually two cellists playing on this track – Jessica Ivry and Ben Tolliday. This track also features viola, violin, harp, piano and organ. But perhaps what I love most is the distinct percussion which feels like it has its own personality. The focus is on the vocals, and there is some wonderful blending of voices. If in the first song there was the danger of a siren luring them to shore, in this one the shore they spy is more inviting, and there is a sense of magic or otherworldly beauty (particularly because of the harp, but also in the vocals).

“For Me, For You” has a happier, cheerful sound that I love. I dig the French horn. But there are still some surprises, particularly in that vocal work in the middle section. And I really like these lines: “When the sun goes down for me/For you the sun's just coming out/It's the same as when you're breathing in/Someone's breathing out.” This song makes me feel good. In an album full of intriguing and engaging songs, perhaps the most interesting is “More Machine Than Man.” I was a huge Star Wars fan from 1977 until the moment I saw The Force Awakens (fuck you, Disney). I still love the original trilogy (not the Special Editions), and – to a lesser degree – the prequels, and so the title of this one appealed to me immediately. For those who might not be familiar with Star Wars (is there such a person?), in Return Of The Jedi, the spirit of Obi-Wan Kenobi tells Luke that Darth Vader is “more machine now than man, twisted and evil Anyway, “More Machine Than Man” is an unusual song, like from a haunted electronic land. There are no direct references to Star Wars (though the line “He clutched with force” might strike you). Some of the lyrics are delivered as spoken word. The song seems to fall apart halfway through, as if the machinery has broken down. But something new emerges from the wreckage, something sad and beautiful. Oddly, there is another false ending, a pause, and then what seems like a nod to Jaws, not Star Wars, and the song builds up again from there.

I love the feel of “Any Day Of The Week” immediately. It has gentle, familiar, comforting sound, both to the music and the vocal delivery. Marie Abe is on accordion, Mark Hart is on organ, and Sylvain Carton plays woodwinds. “And when you get there/Everyone will say/’What brings you back this way?’” That is followed by “From The Bower,” a strangely gorgeous song that features Kristen Toedtman on backing vocals. “It’s all going to change/Everything’s changing/You don’t look the same/Why is it so confusing?” The album concludes with “Tonight’s Tonight,” which has a gentle and sweet beauty, and features Marie Abe on accordion. I also really like the percussion on this track. “In the summer when you took my hand/In that sunlight in that golden band/And the mirrors in your mind/They shine so bright/But the sky's the sky/And tonight's tonight.”

CD Track List
  1. Siren
  2. The Golden Shore
  3. For Me, For You
  4. Sea Of Light (Dirty Ditty)
  5. More Machine Than Man
  6. Crops
  7. Luck Of The Sailor
  8. Any Day Of The Week
  9. From The Bower
  10. The Watchers
  11. Tonight’s Tonight 
The Golden Shore was released on March 30, 2018 on Timeless Elegance Records.

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