A Funny Thing Happened On The Way to Bon Iver…

My wife and I recently had dinner with my friend Jay and his wife Jenny. It was a delightful evening. We shared Indian food by candlelight (the light fixture above our dining room table is broken. I’m working on it). We sat by the festive glow of our recently decorated Christmas tree and shared stories and made each other laugh. All the while, my boys managed to entertain themselves in the back of the house. It was a simple and good night.

Along the course of the evening, the conversation turned to music. Jay and I both have a deep passion for music and, despite a better than ten-year gap in our ages, share a commonality in our likes. Jay plays in a band called Stories In Braille that I enjoy listening to.  We respect each others musical opinions.  So, when Jay insisted that I check out the new album by Bon Iver, I decided I had put it off long enough.  Within the next week, I had downloaded his recent self titled effort.  And it’s really great.

But this post is not about Bon Iver.  Not really, anyway.

You see, one of the interesting things about discovering music on the internet is that you rarely find only the thing you went looking for in the first place.  I specifically went in search of Bon Iver by Bon Iver.  But somehow, through some act of divine digital intervention, I came face to face with an artist and album I had never heard of.  And it had the winning combination of intriguing band name and intriguing album title.  And so, while on my quest to download Bon Iver, I discovered and fell instantly in love with Rise Ye Sunken Ships by We Are Augustines.

The album opens with “Chapel Song“.  And the moment Bill McCarthy begins singing, there is an unavoidable sense of urgency and desperation, almost like a panic, that pulls me into this tale of pain and loss and meaningless handshakes.  The quality of McCarthy’s voice is  engaging throughout Rise Ye Sunken Ships.   It is thoroughly unique, but displays traces of Brian Fallon (Gaslight Anthem), Springsteen, and even a little Tom Waits.  And the songs are strong.

Most memorable is the epic “Book of James“, a song written about McCarthy’s mentally ill brother who committed suicide.  It’s a powerful song.  And if you read the band’s story on their website, you know it wasn’t easily come by.  But it also ended up being the song that kept McCarthy and his primary band mate, Eric Sanderson, from completely abandoning the project.  In fact, much of the album is influenced by that tragic event, along with the bands own struggles to find its place in a messy music industry.  Yet the tone of the album never quite crosses into darkness.  When I hear the lyric “And here lies my green eyes, rolled back in my head but they’re still alive. And all these words can all get spoken.  Just know we tried and you’re forgiven”, written for his brother, I feel the sadness, but my prevailing takeaway is hope.  The album feels hopeful.

I referenced Springsteen earlier, and songs like “Juarez” and “Philadelphia (The City of Brotherly Love)” sound like they could have come right off Darkness on the Edge of Town or The River.  But again, this album sounds uniquely their own (and let’s face it – I can hear Springsteen influence almost anywhere if I put my mind to it).  We Are Augustines owns this material and went through a lot of personal struggle and growth to get to this point. This is a great listen that I let roll over and over an entire day. I don’t know what happens next for these guys, but I really hope they get the chance to do something magical.  Because I really believe they can.

And by the way, make sure you check out Bon Iver as well.  Afterall, he was the original pursuit of this musical journey.  The guy has even managed to score a handful of Grammy nominations.  And big ones, too!  His tune “Holocene” is up for Record AND Song of the year.  Not just alternative song…all songs!  He’s nominated with Katy Perry and Lady Gaga.  I’m not even sure how that happened, but it’s really cool!  If he wins, radio will freak.  Which is a good thing.  But don’t check it out because he is nominated for Grammys, check it out because songs like “Holocene” and “Towers” and “Michicant” are beautiful and enduring.  You will hear something new with each listen.  But make sure you check out We Are Augustines as well.  Because, while I didn’t know they were what I was looking for, a funny thing happened on the way to Bon Iver.


~ by themattmorrisshow on December 14, 2011.

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