In the arena of indie-folk rock/white-boy blues it isn’t often that a band’s first effort strikes a chord with critics and listeners alike, and with good reason. Often a band’s first record is a mélange of styles and sounds as they struggle to home in on who they really are. High School Mustache, apparently, had no such worries when recording their debut EP, Things That Were Blue. HSM’s confidence in who they are comes across in the music. Skillfully combining acoustic guitars, atmospheric effects and simple, but beautiful, vocal harmonies, High School Mustache is able to achieve a complex sound that doesn’t overwhelm or overpower its rich folk roots.
As students of great music, it is clear that Mustache has learned much from the best the genre has to offer, combining just enough sampling to be edgy, but not so much as to distract from the intent. While tracks such as “Writing Postcards” and “Eighty Years” are certainly reminiscent of Beck’s “One Foot in the Grave,” or some of Lou Barlow’s early lo-fi home recordings, HSM has more to offer, and has not been afraid of studio production or sonic collage as means to compliment the straightforward guitar work.
As a complete effort Things That Were Blue seems to get better as it progresses. Later tracks, like “Learning to Talk” and “Wednesday in Humidity,” have a richness and complexity of sound that the early tracks only hint at. On “Eighty Years” lead singer Charles Giorlando’s vocal confidence hits its stride and peaks, spilling into the record’s final track, “Bakers Valley,” a robust ensemble sing along.
As with any good folk record, HSM’s forthright lyrics spin interesting tales without coming across as pretentious or preachy. Abstract enough to allow multiple interpretations, but simple enough not to confound, Things That Were Blue leaves one not blue at all, but rather feeling kind of warm and sunny inside.