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The District Attorneys

Slowburner

(This Is American Music; US: 24 Apr 2012; UK: 24 Apr 2012)

Review [16.Aug.2012]

About four or five songs into Slowburner, you realize that you’ve yet to hear a bad song. In fact, you’ve heard nothing but very good songs.  What’s more, in that short span, no two songs have really sounded the same. Despite Slowburner being the District Attorneys’ full-length debut (two earlier EPs are available for free from Bandcamp, and a few of those tracks are tweaked for release here), there’s no sense that the Atlanta-based band feels any sense of panic about presenting itself to the world. They just say, “Here’s what we’re all about,” and lay it out, so in the first half of the record, you get needle-y guitar, Beach Boys-style harmonies, modernized doo wop, washes of mean Drive-By Truckers-style electric guitar and drum rumble, and a gentle acoustic ballad. Then there’s the second half of the record, on which the District Attorneys reveal even more wrinkles to their strong blend of indie rock, pop, Southern rock, and Americana.


The whole thing makes you look a little askance at the fact these guys are all in their twenties, since their music isn’t just the sound of a band making smash-and-grab runs at this or that cool sound from the past. The layered harmonies and outright joyful choruses offer proof that at least one District Attorney has spent plenty of time soaking up not only the Beach Boys but any other rock band that created swelling vocal waves. The vocal cadence of “Here’s Your Star”, amidst its pretty guitar melodies and saxophone, attains a fluidity that speaks of more than a few years singing church hymns. Parts of “The End”, in a blind listening test, could pass for something from a Gerry Rafferty record. Album closer “Marmalade” teases you with a quick piano flutter reminiscent of the opening of the Rolling Stones’ “Monkey Man”, but it quickly goes in the other direction, establishing itself as a nice ballad full of acoustic guitar and harmonica.


But before this starts sounding like the District Attorneys are some kind of retro act, let me clarify that all of influences come across they way they should: as flavoring for the District Attorneys’ own sound. There’s an energy here that’s purely modern, as evidenced by the breakneck pace, stinging guitar solo, and runaway “da da da” choruses of “Madison Row”. Despite the fact that “Confusion of Trust” glides in like an homage to the doo wop hits of the ‘50s, the lyrics and chorus bear a ragged and angry pain that never would have made it onto tape back in the day. “California Fire” takes jangly, chiming rhythm guitar with a quicksilvery slide lead that makes it sound like the song’s mashing genres together.


So by the time the District Attorneys are threading dissonant guitar notes through the vintage, sax-driven rock groove of “Boomtown” near album’s end, it all make sense.  If it sounds good, it has every right to make it into a District Attorneys song, and with an enthusiasm that you don’t hear from enough bands these days. Songwriters Drew Beskin and T.J. Mimbs bring different perspectives to their band’s unified sound, which helps to make things sound even fresher. This is a confident record, and deservedly so. The District Attorneys have put together something pretty special here.

Rating:

Andrew Gilstrap is a freelance writer living in South Carolina, where he's able to endure the few weeks each year that it's actually freezing (swearing a vow that if he ever moves, it'll be even farther south). Aging into a fine curmudgeon whose idea of heaven is 40 tree-covered acres away from the world, he increasingly wishes he were part of a pair of twins, just so he could try being the kinda evil one on for size. Musically, he's always scouring records for that one moment that makes him feel like he's never heard music before, but he long ago realized he needs to keep his copies of John Prine, Crowded House, the Replacements, Kate Bush, and Tom Waits within easy reach.


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The District Attorneys - Slowburner
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