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Review Fri Oct 30 2015

The Yawpers Revel In Patriotic Decay On New Album American Man

yawpers.jpg

When you name your album American Man, it better damn well be representative of the country's current male psyche. There's the incessant teen angst that ties together generations; there's the bitter laughter at the silliness that consumes national politics; and, growing in strength, there's aching sincerity in the struggle for purpose and a better future. Denver blues-punk trio The Yawpers check off most of these boxes over the course of their second LP, released today through Chicago's Bloodshot Records.

Listening through American Man brings up a very important question: is this a punk album putting on cowboy boots and sliding around with glee, or is this a roots rock album whose roots lie in the decaying soil of the heartland and the associated nihilism? The Yawpers get the two seemingly disparate genres to dovetail nicely, coming out sounding like the Dropkick Murphys of the thoroughly non-Irish plains. Overdriven slide guitar dominates the sonic aesthetic of the record, slashing across the manic beats of "Deacon Brodie" and "Kiss It" and adding not smoothness but a little more chaos--all those little chromatic tones in between the more orderly notes create a sense of unease that permeates the whole album. If there's happiness in The Yawpers' songs, it's a mere mask of joy that belies the terror of an undefined future.

Perhaps this explains the dissociative personalities of singer/guitarist Nate Cook over the course of the album's twelve songs. Who is the headbanging eighth track's "Walter," and what's his "juvenile lie?" It sounds as if Cook is just channeling his fears through an alter ego; I was absurdly reminded of the jubilantly anguished "Tiny Rick" from Rick and Morty (the best comedy on television, get on it). But that dissociation--even more horrifyingly expressed on the BDSM-laced "Tied"--makes the honest tracks on the album hit that much harder. Though I'm not a fan of the weird, high-pitched, fuzzed-out guitar at the beginning of "3 am" and think it's out of place amidst the otherwise beautiful drudgery, the song serves as the eloquent thesis statement of American Man, depicting Cook's ultimate resignation to the existential dread that keeps him up at night. "Well maybe I'll turn to Jesus, maybe I'll cash it all in," he sings in the final, gentle refrain, but he knows that's not possible. Right on cue, a swell of guitar and drums crashes back into the track, the turbulence of life sweeping him up again and preventing him from reaching serenity.

Among the other songs on the record, the smirking cynicism of the title track and the Memphian eulogy "Beale Street" stand out, the former for its clever ambiguity and foreboding bridge and the latter for its refreshing mandolin and fiddle parts, which provide a welcome break from the rabid energy even as the theme of decay continues. But the album's narrative is unpleasantly broken up by the cliché "Burdens," which takes the old "this town" trope and adds nothing new to the idea, either lyrically or musically. For an otherwise well thought-out and original album, particularly with its inclusion of Americana tradition in the punk milieu, "Burdens" struck me as a wasted opportunity. Additionally, what could have been the ideal bow to tie up American Man in "3 am" is messily undone by the album's final track, "The Desert." Perhaps the message here is that there are no ideal endings in life, but if that's so, that message needs to be more memorable--and after over forty minutes of blistering, hard-nosed music with enough catchy hooks to stick, "The Desert" comes out flat.

Still, despite its occasional self-repetitions and uncertain stances, American Man casts an effective microscope on the latest American crisis of confidence, a poor man's Born in the USA with enough stylistic intrigue to promise a bright future for The Yawpers even as their country sinks into oblivion.

6.5/10


 
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Graham / October 30, 2015 12:24 PM

You seemed to be awfully pre-occupied with explaining the meaning of Nate, or looking for this album to explain to you what it is. And with a name like "American Man", it must somehow embody YOUR idea of teen angst and male psyche? Rubbish. While you were weeping over the lack of meaning you could squeeze out of every lyricyou forgot to listen to the damn album, and trying to pin the meaning to things you're quite familiar with (even plugging Tiny Rick) and you came off sounding confused about reviewing this new album that is nothing short of brilliant. Perhaps you are just pissed off that you are stuck reviewing music and not broadway plays or tv/film? Your critique of "Burdens" hilariously highlights that - "wasted opportunity"?!?! What the F#CK are you talking about?! Do yourself a favor and unclog your ears and give it another shot. It's your job, afterall. The only "6.5/10" is this review, and that's being really nice.

Zach BlumenfeldAuthor Profile Page / October 30, 2015 4:51 PM

Hi Graham, thanks for your comment. It's valuable to get other perspectives on The Yawpers' new album--by no means am I the only person entitled to an opinion, nor do I have the exclusive power to define American Man's quality and meaning. Rather than provide me with reasons why the album is brilliant, though, you decided to dismiss my opinion off-hand and also toss in an ad hominem insult. That's no way to start a polite conversation, but I'm willing to hear you out. So can you please tell me why you think American Man is a brilliant album that deserves another shot?

Best,
Zach

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