Tin Horn Prayer – [LP]

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Sometimes the most difficult records to review are those which see a band reaching out artistically to examine several sounds at once but do it so well that they feel as though they should be the work of more than one band – or at least the work of one band on more than one album. Such is exactly what happens on Tin Horn Prayer's new album, Get Busy Dying; depending on which side of the 12” LP a listener is enjoying, said listener will get a different impression the moment he/she flips the disc. Some will call that stylistic disparity frustrating and others will call it fascinating, but the verdict will vary from listener-to-listener, definitely.

On side one, listeners will immediately be struck (and titillated) by Tin Horn Prayer's fantastic folk-punk snarl. From note one, that sort of slightly-boozy-and-slightly-heartbroken-but-ready-to-start-swinging-if-pressed swagger will grab listeners by both ears from the moment they launch into “Better Living” and doesn't let go until record's end. From the moment “Better Living” cuts loose, singer Andy Thomas, guitarists Scooter James and Eric Epling, banjo/mandolinist Mike Herrera, bassist Ethan Steenson and drummer Camden Trendling stir up an infectious whirlwind that is equal parts 'folk' and 'punk,' but inverts the focus that other similarly bent bands typically use; here, the 'folk' weighs in by being the driving force behind the song, while the punk is all in the sneer, bravado and petulant attitude. In effect, what listeners get with “Better Living” is a punk song certainly, but presented as if it were being performed in the back woods because everything is accounted for except for the distortion and decibel levels. It sounds like it should be an incidental or irrelevant difference, but the proof is in the listening; one pass through will worry folkies and knock punks over because they won't be expecting such an energetic output from acoustic instruments.

The provocative delivery of “Better Living” will pique the ears of listeners, but the back-to-back pairing of “Crime Scene Cleanup Team” and “Fighting Sleep” will have them locked in and hanging on every note of Get Busy Dying. Between those two songs, Tin Horn Prayer condenses the swaggers of folk and punk rock that were previously thought to be mutually exclusive down into one anthemic hybrid and fires it fully-formed at listeners with no excuses or apologies. Here, the band doesn't so much challenge every set of establishments punk and folk have set forth so much as ignore them to chase their own muses and present them to listeners. That single-minded assertion would feel revolutionary in itself but, eve better, the band is so confident and the sound is so strong and seamless that the presentation of it will have listeners' excitement levels building. Here, there's an urgency that feels like a call to arms in every kick drum that will will get feet stomping instead of toes tapping, and every guitar line will somehow gain control of a listener's breathing patterns; these two songs aren't just a new reason to live, they play like an instruction manual on how to live it too. It's about as close to a life-altering event as anyone could expect to hear in any record. From there, Tin Horn Prayer begins reaching out to show listeners what else they're capable of. For “Devil Makes Me” and “Crowbait,” THP eases up on the throttle and shows some pretty noir-ish desperation in the airy and subdued arrangements of those songs to close out the first side of the record which makes for a really strong, really exciting experience that will have listeners rushing to flip the vinyl and see what's coming next.

In the flipping is where the record gets complicated though.

On side two, after “Memory” finishes off the noir-ish vignette opened by “Devil Makes Me” and “Crowbait,” songs including “Louis Collins,” “1939,” “Wretch” and “Wayfaring Stranger” all seek to examine a more unmistakably Celtic (think Flogging Molly more than Dropkick Murphys) angle to the band's folk-punk brew which may be a deal-breaker for some listeners. Here, Tin Horn Prayer lightens right up and gets positively personable and (gasp!) corporate as they spryly ramble through some paint by-numbers acoustic punk that isn't “bad” per se, but it isn't as good or exciting as the first side of the album and so feels like a letdown by comparison. Because the second side is not as strong as the first, some listeners will be infuriated by the album but, really, the way that Get Busy Dying works (or doesn't, depending upon your point of view) is totally permissible when one remembers that Tin Horn Prayer is still very much on a learning curve; here, the band has tried on a couple of different sounds to see what fits and listeners will get the scoop on which way the band decides to go on their next release.



Get Busy Dying
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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