Thursday, September 6, 2012

Two Gallants Bloom Amidst The Blight

Adam Stephens (guitar, vocals) and Tyson Vogel (drums, vocals) have been friends longer than they've been a band. They started playing together in the basement of Vogel's home around age 12, a little less than ten years before they decided to lay down some music.

When they did in 2002, they founded the indie rock/folk-punk duo Two Gallants in San Francisco. In the years that followed, they put out three albums and several EPs before several twists for the trouble-prone musicians prevented them from making a fourth. The band took a hiatus.

A few months ago, the two reunited to see if Stephens had healed enough to play (after being in an accident) and whether they could even play together (after several solos and side projects). They could, maybe even better than anyone expected as they resurfaced in small San Francisco venues.

The Bloom And The Blight adds a welcome edge to Two Gallants. 

Their new album, The Bloom And The Blight, picks up where they left off five years ago with a heavier overhauled sound. Their time apart, it seems, created some new angst and renewed passion.

It's very welcomed. Stephens' declarative vocals and fingerpicked guitar fuse effortlessly together with Vogel's wildly relaxed and reactive drums just like before. The difference is the aggression in some songs as The Bloom And The Blight broods, booms, and sears itself as a triumphant return.

The first track, Halcyon Days, is loosely tied to the caustic myth revolving around seven days of calm seas when kingfishers lay eggs. The tragedy and tranquility of it is served up in a brooding and blissful overload of sound. Stephens' familiar but more commanding coarseness ties it together.

The introduction makes perfect sense to draw attention to the heavier edges of the album. It also made for a fiery opener on the album trailer put out a few months ago. If there was ever a song that deserves a full run video, it's Halcyon Days. And with any luck, ATO Records will produce one sometime soon.

While the trailer gives a glimpse of other samplings, long-time fans will likely be looking for something more familiar. They'll find it in the second track, Song of Songs. Much like their earlier work, Song of Songs opens slowly before steadily escalating to a crescendo. If it didn't house one estranged a cappella moment, it would easily be among the album's best.

As it is, the tension and delivery of My Love Won't Wait is much better. After cueing it up with some spoken word, the song quickly erupts into an impatient and obsessive love sickness. While the lyrics are sparse and smart, it's the riffs that set the tempo and pounding percussion that makes it great.

The contrast between this thunderous pace and the sadly tender and folksy Broken Eyes that follows is as striking as it is out of place. The slower, downbeat and straightforward track clearly works, but its position is jarring. You won't hear it splitting up the songs, but much of the album is like that, alternating between smoldering tracks like Ride Away before slipping into something impossibly softer.

Where it does work well enough is in inside Winter's Youth. They toss the music back and forth between calm and storm. While many people will argue that the acoustic and folksy portions of The Bloom And The Blight show the band's soul, it's the more intense moments that give it some power.

More than all that, the Two Gallants prove that no matter the tempo or the tune, they continue to play like they don't consciously know they're in a studio or on the stage. They could just as easily be playing in a basement, effortlessly building on each other's growing talent.

The Bloom And The Blight Ignite 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Expect plenty of people to say it isn't much different or that it's too different for its own good. The truth is that the album lands somewhere in the middle and it is dependent on which track. But no matter whether you hear some softness or slash, the album easily commands attention, even if it does reignite some grunge elements.

Only a special vinyl comes with an exclusive 7-inch that, among other things, includes a cover of Jay Abner's song I'm So Depressed. On iTunes, The Bloom And The Blight includes the bonus track Dyin' Craspshooter's Blues. The bonus track is also included with The Bloom and the Blight from Amazon, but not the CD via Barnes & Noble.

The Two Gallants might have taken some time off from each other, but they are all in for their return. The duo has a full schedule to look forward to on Facebook. They have several shows booked in Texas before they head east for the Southern leg of their tour. They head to Europe in late October.
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