now hear this july

Now Hear This: July 2019

Reviews of new albums by Cursed on Earth, Ezra Cohen, and The Reconstructed

“Volume II” by Cursed on Earth

The terms “blackgrass” and “dark folk” both are appropriate with the theme of “Volume II.” Ryan Walters and Paul Justin Hollingsworth, who play multiple instruments in the band, both sing with a chilling haunt, creating an eerie atmosphere to traditional bluegrass.

Both genres have a long history of narrative lyricism. The stories told are rich, cautious, and deep, born out of hardships and sung with the same cadence as a folk tale. “Mullin Shetland’s Body” and “Master Sergeant Leaving,” the most shining examples, explore the power of storytelling in folklore.

The themes of “Volume II” harken back to traditional folk music, employing the imagery of firing lines, red water, embarking to war, and leaving fate in the hands of God. The duo has a penchant for relating to the historical vibe of the genre while simultaneously maintaining relevance in today’s world. In “Other Side of the Gate,” Walters throws words of caution against intolerance all over the jaunty boogie rhythm.

In homage to their genre, Cursed on Earth has created an atmosphere that lingers in the haunted. Like the grotesque shadow encompassing the bitter man on the cover of the record, the band’s music is steeped in something mysterious and dark. The hollowness of the sound bounces around the guitar, banjo, and percussion. The album has a lo-fi feel, and yet offers an accurate representation of what the band would sound like playing right in front of you in the dark by candlelight.

There is, however, beauty in all the somberness. Songs like “Valley” and “Forest Fire” feature melodies that grab at your heart strings. Each twang of the guitar string and plunk of a note on the banjo feels like an expression of the soul. Whether that soul is haunted or not is anyone’s guess…

 “3 Songs” by Ezra Cohen

The balance of earnest emotion and goofy thrashing is paramount to any alternative-punk-pop-rock band worth its weight. What can tip the scales, though, is when one member of the band risks sailing out into solo territory.

Ezra Cohen, who sings and plays guitar and bass in local bands Notches and Charles, respectively, has always been more of the pop face of his bands. In his debut solo EP, “3 Songs,” he strips away the crushing punk-rock edge of his past compositions and embraces the smoother, poppier side of loud guitar rock. Like J Mascis removed from Dinosaur Jr., or Evan Dando apart from the Lemonheads, or Mac McCaughan without Superchunk, Cohen escapes the influence of bandmates and brings focus to the quality of the songwriting.

This small handful of compositions mostly resembles Cohen’s contributions to Notches. In fact, the second song on the EP, “Perfectly,” is a stripped-down version of one of Notches’ songs from the 2018 album “Almost Ruined Everything,” and it’s arguably better than the original.

The new songs, however, are rosier and have a lot more bounce. The emotion doesn’t seem as anxious to explode, but rather it’s mulled over with melancholy and resolve.

Perhaps holding a Budweiser while wearing a cowboy hat in the cover art gives the album an excuse not to take itself too seriously, or maybe the heart-melting melodies and song titles like “The World’s in Love With You” keep the goofiness in check. Regardless, for people who still turn up their noses at punk, “3 Songs” should act as a gateway toward understanding the beautiful songwriting underneath all the crash and fuzz.

“Great North Wind” by The Reconstructed

One of the most fascinating powers of a good record is its ability to transport you back to a very specific time and place. Upon hearing the first four measures of The Reconstructed’s new album, “Great North Wind,” I was instantly whisked back to 2009. Back then, I was just barely getting the hang of the guitar, plunking away at songs by My Morning Jacket and Wilco. My girlfriend at the time adored both bands, and I would listen to their albums religiously in order to attempt a couple of tunes on the doorstep of her parents’ bungalow in Concord.

The songs on “Great North Wind” provide a comfortable nostalgia that seems both familiar and refreshing. Songs like “Talking With Your Ghost” strum a particularly emotional heart string, where The Shins record “Wincing the Night Away” always plays in perfect pitch. Like the best albums from the aughts, “Great North Wind” has the perfect blend of anthemic rockers (“Wrapped” and “50 Minute Records”) and mellow indie ballads (“Something Came Over Me” and the title track).

The Reconstructed call themselves folk rock, but the expansive, reverb-heavy sound employed on their new album has opened the music to something beyond a singular genre. The guitar leads and drum patterns are performed in a way that makes it seem like this small band from North Berwick should be playing in the world’s biggest stadiums. Martin England’s echoing vocals ripple through each song, like a voice projecting over the vastness of open space.

The Reconstructed have reached an interesting threshold with their music. It may be new, unique, and original, but looked at with rose-colored glasses, it feels like a favorite record you used to listen to a long time ago.

To see past installments of Now Hear This, click here.