I’ve been working my way through a shedload of new releases from Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace! label this past week or so, including ones from a few Wild Mercury Sound regulars like Sunburned Hand Of The Man with Kieran Hebden and MV & EE, as well as some less familiar things, like Little Claw and a pretty fierce free jam from White Out in the company of Moore and Jim O’Rourke.
My favourite, though, is the latest from Hush Arbors, “Yankee Reality”. Keith Wood’s main project is something I’ve written about here a couple of times previously, in a live review of a Club Uncut show from the back end of last year, and in a piece on the last Hush Arbors album on Ecstatic Peace! That record, called “Hush Arbors”, suggested that Wood was gracefully expanding on his fuzzy, avant-folk roots and embracing a more orthodox, though still somewhat other-worldly, tradition of American rock and roots music.
“Yankee Reality” compounds that idea in style. Produced by J Mascis (who also contributes some deep riffs and drums), it finds Wood with a full band lineup, moving closer to a rich, rock sound. The folk influences are generally downplayed, and in their place comes a renewed affiliation to classic folk-rock, with “Day Before” and the fantastic “For While You Slept” echoing the dappled jangle of The Byrds.
It’s only a partial similarity, for Wood’s thin vocals never try, wisely, any complex harmonies. It’s an endearing voice, a little like his fellow traveller Ben Chasny, but maybe one that stops Hush Arbors from being a really powerful band; listening to “For While You Slept”, there’s a mild sense of frustration that such an excellent song isn’t quite getting the treatment it deserves.
But chiefly, “Yankee Reality” works just fine. Some sweet and clever notes that come with the album have been written by James Jackson Toth, and Toth’s latterday albums (as Wooden Wand and under his own name) certainly share a feel; that of two outsider musicians coming in from the wilderness and channelling the more accessible parts of their mighty record collections, maybe.
Consequently, “Yankee Reality” features that standby, the exquisite Americana dirge that faintly recalls “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” (“So They Say” here) and another that reminds me of “The Bollweevil Song” (“Take It Easy”). There’s a nice confection of brokeback piano and distantly Motown drums (“One Way Ticket”; check all these artfully cliched song titles, by the way), plus a Mellotron-powered boogie (“Coming Home”) which prompts Toth to suggest, wryly, it “Oughta have the girls in Band Of Horses t-shirts swooning in no time.”
Finally, there’s “Devil Made You High”, where the dust gets properly kicked up, there’s a roaring wind tunnel guitar, and the distinct spectres of Dinosaur Jr. J Mascis, perhaps inevitably, didn’t play on that one.