Friday, October 13, 2006

Chris Garver: E/4 E/5



This review has taken me quite a while to put together, and part of the reason is that I still don't feel like I understand as much about folk music and Americana as I should. Particularly, I've had a difficult time tracing the origins of "freak folk," a label that Chris Garver is likely to be branded with by many who hear E4/E5, his debut full length, in the coming weeks and months. The phrase itself implies a sense of experimentation and strangeness mixed with some blurry link to Western folk's storied past, but its application in the context of music history is a bit vague. From what I can gather, some of the major influences of contemporary "freak folk" allstars such as Animal Collective, Feathers, Six Organs of Admittance and Vetiver can be traced back to a period in the early 70's when a small group of artists were making progressive, largely introspective rock music that built on traditional English and American folk. During this time, solo artists like Vashti Bunyan and Karen Dalton and bands such as Comus, Fuchsia, Pearls Before Swine and a handful of others from South America and Europe were all taking early forms of prog rock and (by that time) familiar incarnations of psychedelic pop and casually applying them to the traditional "folk" music of their homelands (bluegrass, etc. in America; Celtic in England), resulting in an experimental but decidedly organic sound that is still hard to classify to this day. The significance of this particular movement, which at the time was referred to as "acid folk," is difficult to qualify or gauge, but its safe to say that this music has seen an unparalleled resurgence in interest over the past couple of years, thanks in no small part to a new group of mostly American musicians that have found a source of inspiration in some of these relatively unknown artists.

Although the importance of this development certainly doesn't seem to be lost on Chris Garver, his brand of sleepy, rustic folk has more to do with Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie and traditional country than any of these other more obscure influences, and as a result, E4/E5 works as an example of the fashionable acid folk lineage turned inside out. Essentially, many of the more progressive folk musicians of the 70's sounded as if they were trying to take traditional forms of music and push them to different, more modern places, while Chris Garver sounds like a thoroughly post modern musician that has found solace in looking to the past, albeit through a dark and distorted contemporary lens.

To get it out of the way, Chris Garver's voice will likely remind some listeners of the oh so fun to hate indie/emo figure Conor Oberst, but the similarities are only skin deep. Yes, his voice quivers and cracks in a slightly similar fashion, but his lyrics, music, and presentation are far less obvious, more emotionally complex and consistently more rewarding than anything Bright Eyes has done.

E4/E5 starts off rather ominously, with a haunting drone/feedback track kicking things off and transitioning into the bold, detached darkness of "No Ideas but In Things," a song that is structurally drenched in trad folk but stylistically informed by post-punk dread and the modern outsider lo-fi weirdness of Jandek, with creeping pianos and a ghostly vocal echo that takes some getting used to but eventually makes perfect sense. These two songs successfully reach out beyond the confines of their tracks and set a mood that permeates throughout the remainder of the record, casting somber shadows over some of the sunnier and more humorous songs that also happen to be some of Garver's most successful compositions. A new and improved version of barn stomper "Wasp in the House" follows and stands as a clear highlight, demonstrating Garver's knack for writing infectious folk pop and playing the shit out of some harmonica, which is something he does several times on the record with a high rate of success. "You Bring the Banker Honey" is yet another strong standout, with a simple acoustic guitar base and a hum along chorus that will burn its tune in your head almost instantly, while "Put the Papers Away" starts off as a quiet, low down blues number and evolves into a noisy symphony of balls to the wall layers of explosive electric guitar that will remind listeners of mid 90's Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and reinforce Garver's connection with rock n' roll.

These upbeat standouts are sandwiched between slower, darker and more introspective tracks, and the contrast between them adds a good deal of depth to the record as a whole. Songs like "When Your Momma Leaves" and "Southfork Luncheon Blues" are quiet and tender, and Garver's vocal delivery is detached, sleepy and pensive, exposing a thoughtful sadness and an often strange, haunting spirit that adds enough mystique to separate the record from most of the more traditional folk and country acts in DFWd.

Its clear that Chris Garver understands folk, country and blues, to be sure. But its also clear that he knows that this kind of music, in its most ancient form, was sad, unsettling and a bit strange, and merely playing it straight in this day and age simply won't do justice to this important aspect of the American folk tradition. This kind of music can be called many things I'm sure, and successfully sad modern Americana folk records aren't exactly unheard of (see pretty much anything Bonnie Prince Billy has done). The important point, however, is that Chris Garver has managed to inject a contemporary brand of sadness, wonder and thought into traditional folk and country in a manner that is unique and pleasurable, making his debut one of the more memorable and promising local releases of the year. I'm not sure if thats "freak" folk or what, but its good enough to make me not really care.

11 Comments:

Anonymous adub said...

yo chris is real good. nice guy and no ego.

9:38 AM  
Anonymous scott said...

Little Bijou... That poor little sugerglider died for OUR sins!

11:13 AM  
Blogger tex winters said...

the album is great, I'm glad it's getting some attention. I hope it gets a lot more.

1:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

chrisgarver.com there are four songs from the album on his myspace page too

2:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

jandek, now you are talking my language. corwood industries is the best bit ever.....
o.k. buh bye now.

3:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see 3.5 stars but I read 4.5 stars

?

12:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was quite impressed when I accidently caught Garver's set at Dan's a while back.

1:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

girls throw themselves at Chris's feet!

8:05 PM  
Anonymous chrisgarver said...

New EP out by the end of the year

prime real-estate from the world's first juju-folk album

the full-length is set for release in early 2007--but--is not (nor was it ever) titled My Bloody Alade

12:11 AM  
Anonymous rh said...

hey chris garver, if you read this, i need your freakin email! send it to me at whiskeyandapples.com -- this is red, you gave me your cd at the rubber gloves show and i like it a lot.

4:46 PM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

you can reach him at chrisgarver.com or at myspace.com/chrisgarver

5:54 PM  

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