America means different things to different people. From Chuck Berry to Kanye West, American music reflects who we are and where we came from. This week, let’s take a look at three new records from American songwriters that explore where this country has been and where it’s headed.
With a seal of approval from The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle, “Ten Hymns from My American Gothic” by St. Lenox is a fascinating record that gives a unique perspective on American life. The album artwork depicts a construction crew renovating a gothic church with a skyscraper looming in the background. From the first look, we can already guess many of the themes hidden within. “Ten Hymns from My American Gothic” deals with Christian mantras, America’s obsession with progress, and the clash between the old and the new. The opening track, “Fuel America” begins with a refrain from “We Shall Overcome,” a song inherently politically powerful. Throughout the release, St. Lenox both celebrates and questions America’s history. Sometimes he jabs, as in “Nixon’s” sardonic speedball spit. Other times, he recognizes America’s faults but reconciles his issues with appreciation (“Thurgood Marshall”). St. Lenox shares the spirit of The Mountain Goats and Billy Bragg; all three outspoken yet well-spoken. Be sure to give “Ten Hymns from My American Gothic” a good listen.
Slaughter Beach, a podunk town on the coast of Delaware, is the longtime chosen retreat for Modern Baseball’s Jake Ewald. Named after either a local postmaster, the bloody tide of dead horseshoe crabs or a local massacre, Slaughter Beach is a chunk of Americana rooted in stories and legends. Ewald’s new project, Slaughter Beach, Dog, relays small-town tales from an American landscape on his new record “Welcome.” The album lies somewhere between Modern Baseball and Jeff Rosenstock; it has folk-punk elements but never preaches. Rather, Slaughter Beach, Dog focuses on relationships and idiosyncratic experiences. This record comes off like a correspondence letter from an old friend, dripping with interesting details that are as endearing as they are strange. If you’re riding high on Car Seat Headrest, I’d definitely recommend “Welcome.”
“Goodbye Terrible Youth” from American Wrestlers is the most rock and roll of the three. The new releases from Slaughter Beach, Dog and St. Lenox are both mature statements on American culture. In contrast, “Goodbye Terrible Youth” harnesses adolescent energy and excitement. Although the record seems negative with songs like “Vote Thatcher” and “Terrible Youth,” American Wrestlers don’t wallow in their angst. They recognize the absurdities of growing up in modern America and channel their distaste into positive change. This record reminds me of Manchester Orchestra’s first record, but with an emphasis on fuzzy synths and new wave melodies. “Goodbye Terrible Youth” is a collage of influences and attitudes, much like our country.
Often, we’re at a loss for words when we look at our country. There’s so much good and so much bad. When we can’t speak for ourselves, we can turn to music for inspiration. If you want to hear some inspiration this week, set your dial to 98.9 FM in Boulder or 1190 AM in Denver, and check out great new releases on Radio 1190.
Jarocki is Radio 1190’s music director. Read more reviews: coloradodaily.com/columnists