The main things you glean from Jesse Thorson’s songwriting over the years–he hates himself and he likes drinking but he’s never dull, dumb, or numb. If ever there was an band I thought I could rally the Ninebullets readership behind, it was Pretty Boy Thorson and the F’n A’s. Unfortunately their last full-length came out in 2009 and they’ve only released a trickle of 7″s and splits since. CUT TO 2013 and Thorson’s new band The Slow Death releases a new album and I hope it’ll be the right time to write up how much he rocks (alas I’m not super stoked on it), but with much less fanfare he also releases a brand fucking new Falling Angels record. So 2013 gave us records from both Bottomless Pit and Joel RL Phelps, both Richard Thompson and Linda Thompson, from Radioactivity and Mindspiders and Low Culture (all out of the ashes of late Denton greats The Marked Men), and a bunch or other artists who we had no right to expect to hear again, let alone in such combinations–and to that list, we add this record.
The album starts off with the atmospheric, prostrate “I Don’t Think I’m Gonna Make It”–a track so measured and out of character for the free-Falling Angels that I wasn’t sure I was playing the right album. But the Skynyrdian snakeskin boots they’re wearing here fit perfect. There’s a little guitar hook in there that’s so awesome but only used at a couple of restrained moments. Restraint, far from being something that could undo what’s great about the F’n A’s, may actually be what elevates this album above other open-chord bar bands and nearer Slobberbone or Bottle Rockets.
The second track begins flatly with “Oh lord, I’m tired/ tired of living this a-way,” and I wonder if the band is going to be able to rekindle the intensity that carried even their most basic lyrics in the past–they could once deliver “Take me home / and put me to bed / if I wake up tomorrow / with the same old pain and sorrow / I’ve still got whiskey and gin” as convincingly and wonderfully as a perfect “Moonshiner” cover. But this is an older band and they’re now a side project to The Slow Death–I don’t expect, and wouldn’t be turned on by, a 20-year-old perspective on drinking and partying–as long as what Thorson has to give isn’t dulled or dumbed by numbness.
At track five, “Blameless,” this thing really takes off, and for the next 27 minutes I get everything I want all at once. I keep saying, man the middle of this album is so strong, but it never comes down–eight absolutely indispensable songs to finish an album. And it wasn’t even that slow of a start–a fitting warm-up for a band taking the long player for a ride for the first time since 2009. Steve Earle’s Transcendental Blues doesn’t get on a real roll until track six, either. Back to what PBT is doing here: stuff so naturally paced with the whirlpools of shit in your stomach that you get caught up in it like this album had been playing for the last forty years. “Blameless in a black dress / I guess I looked like a train wreck.” “The pills I take / my heart would break / I must’ve walked the whole length of Shasta Lake.“ There are nods to Thorson’s Minneapolis roots and rockabilly past on “New #3″ (an homage to Avail in that title?), a Henneman-esque turn on “I Guess You’re Not the One,” and each song has a chorus or melody sharp enough to dig a new fissure in your brain. The finale is a short and sweet, banjo-backed and rowdy chorale of “I love you even more / than I hate myself“–the heart-ascending heraldry of the best of the Falling Angels.
For any Skynyrd, Slobberbone, Bottle Rockets, Takers, TCG, DTR, DBT, Nato Coles, Spider Bags, Replacements fans–for anybody reading Ninebullets–An Uneasy Peace is Essential Listening.
Stream and buy An Uneasy Peace from Tampa’s Kiss of Death Records bandcamp–and buy the vinyl (and I’m pretty sure they’re offering the mp3s for FREE) from their Limited Run Store. Stream and buy the F’n A’s previous LPs Ain’t it Funny and Take it Easy from Tampa’s A.D.D. Records bandcamp. Check out the more straight-ahead punk of The Slow Death’s albums No Heaven and Born Ugly, Got Worse.