ALBUM REVIEW: These United States – “These United States”
Despite how much I wanted to love Jack White’s Blunderbuss, I found myself underwhelmed by all but a few key tracks as White seemed happy preaching to the converted. I got no sense that he was ready to embrace even the remotest drips from the mainstream, even if that means he still fights to craft a truly timeless rock nugget.
Conversely, a few moments into “Dead & Gone,” by Brooklyn’s These United States, I immediately felt what had been missing from White’s well-meaning but water-treading album. This is music for those of us who love life, Americana and musical celebration in all its glory.
If These United States is the album Blunderbuss isn’t, the missing element must be these sly touches of Beck-inspired joy-making. This album is a freewheeling headphone experience which demands listeners be willing to set aside their troubles and come along willingly. It’s Ira Glass’s This American Life for those of us who drink down our Americana like espresso, our day’s steaming caffeinated lifeblood.
But while there’s a constant sense of merrymaking about these dozen tracks, the songs are built upon a firm foundation of musical experience — the kind of experience you only get by going out on the road and playing songs for the people they’re meant to uplift. “Two Gods,” at the album’s midpoint, is the perfect blend of the Band and Jason Isbell, with a chorus you’ll be hard-pressed to get out of your head. Its flourishes of pedal steel provide the perfect heft to Jesse Elliott’s vocals, which seem to fight the very bonds of gravity as he ponders an otherworldly experience:
As if one God stood before us
And we somehow got around him
The sun was still so sky-high
On the new side of the mountain
As if one God asked for nothing
Knowing nothing we could give her
. . .
What on earth could you be looking for?
This isn’t the band’s first go-round. They’ve chosen to go the eponymous route with their fifth studio effort, and as is the case with most self-titled albums, the result is an aural statement that These United States aren’t going anywhere unless we’re coming along for the show. If, as they suggest on their official website, it’s true that These United States surrender themselves to unbridled rock and roll exuberance, it must also be said that their fans are equally ready to surrender to listening on repeat as these songs soak their way into the soul.
Speaking of which, if you say you don’t like Americana after hearing this album, I fear you don’t have one.