Denver three-piece The Yawpers aren’t yet very well known, but with the Halloween debut of their first Bloodshot Records release, American Man, all that is very likely to change. First albums are exciting ventures, they often act as manifesto in addition to a declaration of arrival. The timing for the Yawpers couldn’t be better. As a country we find ourselves in another rabid election cycle; it is our chance as a nation to define who we are and who we want to be. Across the 12 tracks of American Man, frontman Nate Cook attempts to define our nation’s most at risk minority: the individual.
From the first humble bars of opener “Doing it Right,” one might confuse the Yawpers for just another working band. But all illusions are shattered as the momentum builds and the song about a no-good-girl blossoms into an unexpected anthemic zeitgeist about our modern age. By the time singer Cook, growls “No silver tongued man can inherit the earth, it’s the callous on your fingers not the glory of your birth.” one is confronted by contrasting themes and a complexity boiling just beneath the surface of the track. By the fake outro, where the music is left to linger just long enough for the audience to begin to digest what they’ve heard, Cook’s vocals return in a powerful reiteration of the song’s main theme, the struggle for authenticity in the monolithic face of societal norms. It is an impassioned track, executed without fault and a delicious first course to a veritable feast of a record.
The second, titular track loses no momentum. On it, Cook contrasts the pride of our American empire against a more desultory dog’s eye view of life within it. It serves as a toast to a country that always seems on the edge of annihilation or else in a state of perpetual hysteria. The song is poetic brinksmanship that in one breath condemns our crumbling powerbase while with the next breath glorifies our achievements. On the world stage America is a polarizing figure. We are as well-loved as we are well hated and the song “American Man,” explores that complexity from a view of the interior. The track’s results are for obvious reasons a mixed bag of socio-political morality, perhaps best characterized by the song’s final line, “I salute her virtues with blood on my hands / Praise the Lord, I’m an American man.”
One can go on ad infinitum about the lyrical prowess of American Man, but what makes it a truly exciting album is how ounce for ounce the musical accompaniment matches the intensity, depth and beauty of the lyrics. Less is more these days, and like some sort of musical six-sigma venture the Yawpers produce a wealth of sound from minimal input. The acoustic guitar is the main instrument, but from it Cook pulls all the emotions of a bipolar drunk: the highs are ecstatically frenzied, the lows bone crushing. Like the Beatles the Yawpers can be heavy, dark, and brooding without raising the BPM’s to breakneck speeds. Equally alluring is the use of slide steel throughout the bulwark of the album’s material. Cook takes instrumentation usually reserved as decoration and succeeds at creating a universe from it. The slide guitar plays an important role as both rhythmic mule and sinister psychedelic fanfare.
To be completely fair, American Man is going to piss off a lot of people. Those it doesn’t will likely just ignore it and hope the Yawpers brand of rootsy, boozy rock Americana gets lost in the glut of releases like a bust card getting shuffled back into the deck. Pete Doherty famously sang “Cornered the boy kicks out at the world, and the world kicks back a lot harder.” In every respect this is true of the Yawper’s American Man. When Elvis first shook his hips on stage, when Dylan had the audacity to go electric both were initially dismissed as faddish by a population interested in maintaining the rules of fading empires. But for every aging hipster shed, both managed to embrace a legion of vanguards with styles of music that endeared itself to many despite the controversy of a few. So too will American Man alienate stalwart audiences. Detractors will overlook the early E Street, Springsteen lyrical desperation of tracks like “Burdens,” or the gut punch emotional delivery of “9 to 5” to merely sneer at references to huffing gasoline, violence, or substance abuse.
American Man is an exceptional first release by a band just emerging from the obscurity of a predictable scene. The musical influences across the 12 tracks of this album have something for every outsider. Populist lyrical themes of golden era folk-Americana are contrasted beautifully against the majestic rhythms of heavy metal and punk. There’s a bit of the longing of Hank Williams, in American Man, a bit of the lean and mischievous outlook of Waylon Jennings, there is heart and soul and passion, none the least there is courage. Like America itself, the Yawpers will be both intensely loved and loathed for their first label output, American Man.