Given their frenetic touring schedule, and the high-praise they have received from blogs and print alike, itâs a wonder how These United States remain aloof among those well-versed music lovers who wear their idiosyncrasies on their sleeves who call themselves Alt-country fans.These United States - Born Young
Read more of the review after the jump.
Even when dropping the pretentions that come with having SPIN and NPR Music say really nice things about them, These United States create such a warm, folky vibe (but still hard enough to get the rockers in the crowd moving) that makes their under-the-radar only success a bit more of a head-scratcher. But anyone at their Northside Festival party (advertised as a Record Release show, albeit inconsistently) would give those familiar with Jesse Elliotâs beat leaning-lyrics and the bandâs smooth country-rock that recalls a harder version of the Band, a definitive answer, for better and worse.
A little less earthy and ethereal than most alt-country bands out there, These United States play a kind of punky folk that hit that sweet spot between Bob Dylanâs story like song structures and a garage-fuzzed take on the Band. Their sound has very little modern influence to tie These United States to anything released past 1973, yet it comes off as music fit for todayâs youth in particular. The songs take on an air of infinite wonder, aimless but happy rambling, or, at its worst, lazy sing-song rhymes that are fun regardless.
Elliotâs voice warbles and whines in an odd caricature of what country singers sound like, while Tom Hnatowâs lap slide guitar switches between gorgeous clean sweeps and screaming blasts of fuzz. Of all the retro/revivalist rock bands in Brooklyn (and represented at Northside Festival) These United States are, for the most part, a fine substitute for having a time machine to go back to that aforementioned year and ramble âbout the south a cupplâa days and see the country.These United States - I Want You to Keep Everything
But while it makes for good rock and roll, thereâs little to stand out about These United States. The songs are fine, and probably played live with a little more urgency â yet without the real sense of wonder that the album versions have as a collective vision. That trade off that makes a bandâs albums better than their concerts (and vice versa) doesnât seem to affect TUS all too badly, instead striving precisely for the middle. Even looking at the set list, starting off with âMiss Undergroundâ â a poppier tune where the Elliot creaks while moody back-up from the rest of the band (almost joylessly) chants âUnderground, Miss Undergroundâ is an unusual choice. Itâs not a particularly memorable song, nor do any of the colors and sounds in this hazy piece truly stand out on the album. But for the live show, at the very least, itâs Hnatowâs slide that feels like it was a planned part while the rest of the band plays a muddy mixture of guitars and bass.
Yet, the set list did include some stand-outs, like a brash, stand-your-ground version of âThe Businessâ from TUSâ debut album, and âLet the River In,â a laid-back tune that rambles at a comfortable pace with a sing-along chorus. But looking out the crowd, beyond the two girls and one guy who were dancing in their own personal Bonnaroo, most were simply willing to let the good vibes roll over them, and out the door.
And this seems to be the expected reaction even from the band: theyâre not trying for everyone to like them, but theyâre not demanding your love and affection either. Throughout the show, Elliot would invite fans, new-found and old alike, to hang out with him and the band after the show (starting with a stop at the merch table, of course), and just chill out. Itâs the kind of âLetâs Be Friendsâ mentality that makes them seem less like a band, but more like your friendsâ band that you see sometimes when the weekend begins. Itâs a solid performance, but itâs a kind of amiability that most bands wouldnât dare attempt for fear of being so middling.
But itâs hard to hate Jesse Elliot and company for trying.