Know Your Product
A country veteran and indie-rock traditionalist celebrate album releases this week
Published: November 3, 2010
Lower Your Arms
“Ain’t much to do, but sit around and watch the wolves watchin’ you,” sings June Star frontman Andrew Grimm in the sort of scraped-out Western twang that would never be mistaken for being from Baltimore or, for that matter, anywhere this side of coal country Appalachia. June Star is a country band—not “alt-” anything, or “new-” anything, just the straight-up country of open space and creeping loneliness. Which makes it one of the more novel bands in Baltimore, just by default. And after 12 years and six albums, June Star has gotten very good at its craft, delivering 13 well-rounded and simple songs—all reworkings of older Grimm solo material—of lovely singing slide-guitar-haloed music for whiskey and watching trails roll by.
That said, Lower Your Arms isn’t the most immediate record, which is entirely due to how it sticks to those bare country bones. It can deliver a big, satisfying chorus—as on the opener, “Breakdown,” which dares a “na na na na” refrain and lets out with a warm and welcoming pedal steel solo that has the natural smoothness of a riverbed stone. The real allure, however, is the slowly loping, melancholic spaces between big peaks like that, when Grimm’s sometimes overbearing vocals are dialed down some and that steel or maybe a plinking blue piano melody hit a bit of gloom on a later track, like “You forgot about love/ you were picking flowers just to watch them die” as if a morning fog hits a cold, gray body of water. To put it all really bluntly: This is country without much if any indie-anything thrown in. It takes a while to sink into June Star’s sonic world, but listeners will be richly rewarded.
June Star plays a CD release show Nov. 6 at the Creative Alliance. For more information visit junestar.com.
Toast a Dozen on the Outside
A proper indie-pop/rock scholar could probably spend a week picking apart the history on Toast a Dozen, both in a literal dudes-from-other-bands sense (Oranges Band and Buttsteak, notably) and in the sense that Impossible Hair is way heavy on indie glory-days homage. Guided By Voices comes up frequently in Impossible Hair press, for example. For the rest of us unconcerned with playing connect the dots, the Baltimore/Washington, D.C., band’s sophomore disc is funny, quick, and plague-catchy without laying the sugar on too thick. For a band this into doting on its influences, you could do worse pretty easily.
When people talk about “guitar music,” this is what they’re talking about. Impossible Hair’s ax men are having a wicked good time here, laying out what feels like endless leads trading between crunching near-grit and radiating six-string sunshine. Some of the quick tracks on Toast a Dozen (about two minutes apiece, average) feel like they could kick vocals out entirely and succumb, totally, to being riff playgrounds—which could actually be pretty fun. Speaking of vocals, this is apparently supposed to be a horse-racing concept album, though it doesn’t wave that flag, or really any lyrical flag, too high. The record, however, does feel like a bit of a race, and that’s not necessarily a good thing: It’s hard to pick out an earworm like older Impossible Hair gems “X-Ray Man” or “Accidental Claustrophobes.” Still a good ride. ■
Impossible Hair plays a CD-release show Nov. 5 at the Golden West. For more information visit impossiblehair.com.
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