Two Gallants’ debut CD release, The Throes, is so earthy you might have to dust soil from it before sliding it into your player. It is a contemporary blues-based folk (which in this case, shouldn’t put you off) record, and it’s the work of two 21-year-old artists (not “artists” in any casual sense, but explicitly) from San Francisco.
First of all, Adam Stealin and Tyson Vogel are storytellers (they take their name from the sixth story in Joyce’s Dubliners). Their material harkens back more specifically, though, to the authorial territory of Raymond Carver and Richard Ford, writers who early in their careers were branded “dirty realists”—a term they grew to distrust, but one which neatly describes such blues-folk rebels as these. Two Gallants tell brutal tales of faded prospects and broken promises, of wrecked romances and lives departing along twisted tracks; these are stories of a grave and inevitable disappointment, and from where youth gathers such bleak histories, one might perhaps best wonder another time.
There’s an unforced literacy at work here, and in the music, a barely tempered urgency. It’s reminiscent of the first offering from Gomez, a record that also appeared like a bolt from the blue, utterly anomalous amid a sea of trendy voices, bands in it for the glory, or worse, in it for the latest haircut (and just about as permanent). For all of that, there’s an even greater authenticity here. Lest we forget, Bring It On earned Gomez the prestigious Mercury Prize, an award for which you must be British to be considered—and this is distinctly an American music. It takes its lead from American backcountry blues, and for those who’ve already heard the prominently placed harmonica and failed to see beyond Dylan, I suggest a search further back for range of influence. Dylan is too easy as comparison, and no-one owns any single instrument.
What distinguishes much of this writing is a willingness to look around, to take in a broader picture, and to indulge in an unexpected leap of phrase. It’s an album that tips its hat gently towards its own western mythology, as in this, from “Two Days Short Tomorrow”:
You were sired by sirens they taught you not to talk: all words are empty.
But they leant you their hats, screaming bring back from the other side some sympathy.
And in delicate ambiguity, such as this which opens the same song:
My darling, my darling
Are you as composed as the space you fill
The title track relates a tale of domestic abuse and violence, and opens beautifully: “‘Well I don’t know if I can take this anymore’ / She is thinking as he shoves her against the wall; / Screaming ‘well then what good are you for? / You don’t give me no pleasure at all?’” Possibly, though, it’s the one track on the album that loses its way, becomes overblown. Like its beaten protagonist, the song fails to look outside itself for resolution and winds up somewhere just a little too close to melodrama. For all of that, it feels almost churlish to offer such criticism, given the array of pleasures here.
The Throes was produced by Jeff Saltzman (who also recently produced the Killers’ debut), and it’s sequenced so that I can scarcely imagine hearing the songs in any other order. “Fail Hard to Regain” recalls Shane McGowan-era Pogues—loutish, bristling, and full of energy, while “Crow Jane” features an eponymous character whose name, if it doesn’t suggest a story all by itself, should lead you to understand that you’re probably neither a reader nor writer.
They’re only twenty-one, these boys, and already they know stories. Two Gallants found me by happy accident (or not quite: a publicist sent it to me on spec and I happened to give it a listen), but I suggest you don’t rely on such happenstance of faith. I suggest you go seek them out for yourself.