Antifolk still seems to have surprises up [its] sleeves but it’s been in the limelight a bit too long this time around. In the past after victories by Beck or the first Moldy Peach wave it ducked back down underground where it could blurble and fornicate safely… staying creative and warm out of the cold media eye. [B]ut now with Regina’s success followed by Juno and all the artists suddenly calling themselves Antifolk it’s getting a strange, it’s getting fattened up for the slaughter.
—Lach, on MySpace
Illustrating his inflated sense of self-importance (he sounds a bit like the heshers from my high school meticulously differentiating between the true metal believers and the sell-outs), Lach declares that Antifolk is to folk what punk was to rock. I have to disagree. Sorry pal, but playing entirely conventional folk with ripped jeans and emo glasses should not necessitate the coining of a new genre. The fact that this is even a recognized scene baffles me…it’s the ultimate in music press wankery.
The Calm Before‘s brilliance begins and ends with the opening track, “Egg”. With a compelling melody and convincingly exuberant vocals, “Egg” tells the story of a baby chick who traded the safety and warmth of an egg for the unknown adventure of the world beyond. “I should thank you for havin’ me / but it feels more like I’ve been had” is perhaps the album’s lyrical highlight, capturing the discontent with life’s harsh realities that often overshadows our gratitude for the opportunity to exist. His ‘Dylan by way of Jello Biafra’ delivery is sweetly complemented by emotive saxophone.
From there, the album sounds like kids music. You know, the kind of thing you’d hear from a wildly gesturing, guitar-slinging clown at a children’s theatre or cheap entertainment hired for a middle school anti-drug rally. There’s circus music and pirate music and even a rockabilly song! Busting lyrics about avocadoes and frosty-o’s, Lach’s whimsical subject matter and proper pronunciation don’t sound like the “middle finger to the folk purists” proclaimed by NME in the album’s accompanying press release.
Where The Calm Before really fails is in its dreadfully obvious instrumentation. With the exception of “Egg”, every song goes exactly where you expect it to go. Conservative song structures and surprise-free melodies saturate the record. Folkies have been known to get away with this; after all, most of the early folk standards were drag-and-drop rags wherein contemporary folk singers would simply insert new lyrics into old traditional tunes. Even Dylan is guilty of this. But then, Dylan can fall back on his genre-defining lyrical wit, whereas Lach’s lines mostly fall flat.
By nature, folk has a DIY ethos, so it’s not as if Lach is raging against the major label folk scene. I spent half the first listen trying to figure out what differentiates Antifolk from regular folk, the second half wondering why Beck lists the dude as an influence. Beck’s lyrics are anything but concrete, let alone metaphorical, whereas Lach’s songs are immediately digestible, requiring little contemplation. Even when Lach gets poetic, he’s telling you that certain abstractions are so thick; it’s almost as if they could be cut with some sort of proverbial knife. Hardly Shakespeare.