Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Houndmouth Howls From Hills Below

Back in April, Mayor Greg Fischer decreed it "Houndmouth Day" in Louisville, Kentucky. The proclamation coincided with the four-piece folk-rock band opening the concert season there.

It was a pretty big deal for Louisville, taking some ownership of a band that often describes its origins as being from "the lowland plains and farmlands of Indiana and Kentucky." And it was a pretty big deal for Houndmouth. Their first album debuted yesterday, released by Rough Trade Records.

The band itself is somewhat of an accidental afterthought. It all came together when a folk duo consisting of Katie Toupin (vocals, keyboard) and Matt Myers (guitar, vocals) joined up with Shane Cody (drums, vocals) and Zak Appleby (bass, vocals). But where they come from hardly seems to matter anymore.

From The Hills Below The City lights up Houndmouth. 

While some people see Houndmouth as a bit of a mismatch with the label, Rough Trade is keen on the caustic nature of alternative. Much of what most people called alternative has entered the mainstream, opening up some room for roots rock to land there.

That's not to say everything that Houndmouth howls about is exclusively Americana. Their sound continues to be hard for some folks to categorize because it is colossally electric. They play most of it constrained to a half-time beat but aren't afraid to punch it up with some guitar solos. When combined with Toupin's organ, most of the music they produce feels like it's moving in two directions at once, forward and backward at the same time.

The lyrics on the other hand are a bit different. Although poetic musings sound like they play to the past, Houndmouth is lively and surprisingly contemporary. This isn't old school farmland folk. It's about real people with contemporary troubles.

Although played at a slower pace than some of the tracks on From The Hills Below The City, Penitentiary carries a bit of a confessional punch that hints at the reverse exodus as people move away from some big cities and head south where the law might be a bit tougher than they imagined.

The track, like several swatches from this album, is imbued with a benevolence toward loners (and sometimes losers). The band, it seems, can relate. Even the first track, On The Road, makes loss somehow admirable and understandable because Houndmouth lays it out cold.

That's not to say every track off From The Hills Below The City are brooding or bluesy. There is resolution in the more livelier tracks like Come On, Illinois and Krumpus. The road might be hard, but the band doesn't abandon hope outright. There is an understood acceptance that bad things happen when being bad is the choice you make — much like the man they crow about in Halfway to Hardinsburg.

All of it makes a pretty convincing case to be a country blues vagabond without glorifying any of it. The real beauty of the music is that everyone feels like an outsider at one time or another. And when a band brings the right stories together with a remarkable roots rock precision, there isn't much more to do than nod along and encourage them to preach it.

From The Hills Below The City Rustles Up 8.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The beaten-down-but-still-here hardship songs revive and modernize some of the sentiment felt in the depressed-laced 30s. But perhaps what is different is the non-judgmental seductiveness of music that makes so much sense. Even if it isn't a style that makes you sit back and listen, run the playlist and listen for the exception. Before you know it, you might find yourself adding another track or two until you own it all.

From The Hills Below The City by Houndmouth can be found on Amazon. You can also order the album from Barnes & Noble or download it from iTunes. Houndmouth is currently touring with a sporadic criss-cross across the United States planned. For upcoming dates and places, find them on Facebook.
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