Review ·

Irony is important. It can be a very useful litmus test for figuring out a person's character. I've never met Adam Stephens (lead vocals, guitar) and Tyson Vogel (drums, vocals) of Two Gallants, but after repeat listens to What the Toll Tells and their sloppy yet acclaimed 2004 debut, The Throes, I get the feeling that irony isn't their strong suit. The James Joyce-referencing band name, the laughably noir album art on each of their releases, the lyrical style that makes Colin Meloy seem down to earth: If these dudes were a diet, it would be strictly sodium-free. What I mean is, they take themselves really seriously.

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As David Dondero coined it, "the skinny-indie-white-boy blues" is what Two Gallants try to deliver, and at times these Bay Areabased boyhood chums get it right. Frontman Stephens is all rabid and jangly, both in his guitar work and vocals (think Cat Stevens after downing a gravel smoothie). Vogel is a solid drummer; nothing spectacular, but he nails the rah-rah, Against Me! factor with his straightforward skins and backing vocals, which lift the record's better songs. The two pride themselves on a reluctance toward the standard verse-chorus-verse structure, and it gives their songs a very driven, linear feel when taken individually. Unfortunately, as a whole, this release suffers from repetition.

 

"Two Gallants" is one of fifteen short stories in Joyce's "Dubliners." The story was not included in the original printing of the book; it was added later as a metaphorical "screw you" to Dublin, whose society Joyce felt had betrayed him and was stuck in an adolescent holding pattern. The story's two gallants are a petty con team that takes advantage of a young maid and robs her of a gold coin, but the main focus of the tale is one of the men's aimless stroll through town: the social-meandering that Joyce despised. I doubt that Stephens and Vogel are calling themselves con artists or immature drifters, but rather use the name because, well, it's a cool name (and/or because it shows how versed they are).

 

"Las Cruces Jail" leads off the band's Saddle Creek debut with so much promise that it ends up serving as the unfortunate highlight of the letdown that most of the following songs turn out to be. Starting with a distant whistling and the sound of swirling wind, the song gets horsewhipped into a dirt-floor stomping aesthetic that ebbs and flows to the end. The third track, "Some Slender Rest," also begins well enough, but after six minutes the off-tune whining begins in earnest. Unlike Jim Varney's Ernest, however, the song never comes back from camp. "The Prodigal Son" and "Threnody In Minor B" are both satisfying and well written, the former maybe a bit worn after Okkervil River's Black Sheep Boy (a point Stephens dutifully acknowledges with, "I'm well known in story/ famous in song/ the black sheep, the blemish/ the one who went wrong").

 

The biggest "Are these guys kidding?" moment comes with their semi-cover of Moses "Clear Rock" Platt's work song, "Long Summer Day." Covering African-American music has been a staple amongst white folkies from Woody on up. But the treatment of this song comes off as pretentious, presumptuous and damn near audacious. "A summer day make a white man lazy/ He sits on his porch killing time/ But a summer day makes a nigger feel crazy/ Might make me do something out of line."

 

Gee fellas, how quaint. Modern-day blackface minstrelsy this is not, but a little more tact would be nice. Call me crazy, but busking on the streets of San Francisco and touring through Europe (that's the "world weariness" Saddle Creek emphasizes) doesn't give them quite the stature to liberally drop the N-bomb and sing a song from the perspective of a man as hardscrabble as Platt. (Spending much of his time toiling on prison farms in Texas, Platt's first recordings surfaced when Alan Lomax visited him in the clink.)

 

There are obvious talents at work here, and hopefully the Gallants will settle down and get it right eventually. But this album is so ripe with hubristic self-regard and musical monotony that most of its worth gets crossed out.

Discuss this review at The Prefix Message Board

  • Las Cruces Jail
  • Steady Rollin'
  • Some Slender Rest
  • Long Summer Day
  • Prodigal Sun, The
  • Threnody
  • 16th St. Dozens
  • Age Of Assassins
  • Waves Of Grain
Man Man - Six Demon Bag Kelley Stoltz Below the Branches

I think you're wrong.

robert rees-hughes

you should give up reviewing for a living.

brendan

You missed the point completely, what an arse

Josh

I personally think you are the one who took them too seriously, and for the wrong things.

Alfonso

My favourite track is "Waves of Grain" the nine minute epic song which doesn't get a single mention in the review but not only that you are being very racist in your review. To say that two white boys haven't earned the right to use a word that another person can due to skin colour is racist in itself. But hey I guess you would dream of singing something from the heart.

Andrew

Speaking from the point of view of a black person that has been on the receiving end of racism. I have to say, you really don't get it.

It is an ugly word with an ugly past behind it and that's what the song is about. The ugly past. Nobody bats an eyelid at rappers throwing it around and 13 year old kids thinking it's okay to refer to their friends as "my n****r", but if two white guys use it in a revival of song about racism all hell breaks loose.

This whole unnecessary controversy is reminiscent of that surrounding Harper Lee's use of racial epithets in To Kill A Mocking Bird. But, how do you expect someone to tell a story about racism in the south with out using the words? They are part of the ugly truth of an ugly past. Just because it makes you uncomfortable to hear the word does not lessen it's significance in the history of black america.

No I'm not okay with white indie kids [or anyone] going around using the word, but this was one instance I'd be willing ot let slip.

It was a song that needed to be sung today.

It's just a shame that two white guys were the ones to step up and sing it first.

A little late to the party

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