With cello, violin, finger-picked guitar, and a soprano vocalist, Foxtails Brigade more closely resembles a 19th century folk trio than something from 2011.
Laura Weinbach, the woman behind Foxtails Brigade, is writing music that doesn't sound like very much else out there these days. It doesn't fit into easy genre classifications like rock, pop, or even indie chamber-pop, which might come the closest. The songs of Foxtails Brigade have more in common with a 19th century folk trio than anything from the 21st century. Weinbach plays finger-picked guitar and sings in a lilting soprano voice, accompanied by violin and cello. Her songs don't really follow the defined modern songwriting structure, either. These songs definitely have melodies, but there aren't a lot of recognizable verses, choruses, and bridges. It's a much more free-associative style that often starts at point A and ends up at point B or C without bothering to go back to A.
Lyrically, Weinbach is all over the place. She often sounds like a gothy Neil Gaiman fan writing little short stories and setting them to music. A song like "The Doll" is a two-piece narrative about a girl who watches her doll come to life and dance around late at night. Then the second half switches to the doll's perspective and Weinbach affects a different singing voice and reveals that the doll is dancing specifically for the girl. The album's title track is a jaunty-sounding tune that reads like a child's cautionary tale about being miserly in life and where you'll end up if you aren't generous. "The Clown" is a gentle, pretty song that wonders about the personality of the person behind the clown makeup. "The Hours" traces a woman's morning in minute detail in the first half, but the second half implies either regrets for the life she's lived or the woman's realization that she's been a ghost for quite a while.
All this is in keeping with the 19th-century vibe of the music, but occasionally Foxtails Brigade gets lyrically anachronistic. Most obviously this happens in "For Leo", which opens with the bracing line "Godzilla and Robo Shark / At times have been called forms of art", and later finds Weinbach saying, "When I say to shut your face / You don't look so surprised". The somewhat freeform music behind the melody makes "For Leo" a song that gets weirder as it goes. "Chat With Sivan" begins with clear folk stylings and lyrics like, "A table is better / With cake and tea / And apples taste better / When they're not sweet". But while the song retains its folk stylings, the lyrics get more anachronistic, with lines about killer bees, giant sluglike tentacles, and ice cream cones.
If nothing else, Foxtails Brigade is an unusual group. Weinbach is definitely charting her own path as a musician. Because she's so idiosyncratic, though, The Bread and the Bait is not always an easy listen. Songs like "Steak and Cookies" and "Pan-Asian Delight" slide into sections of atonal strings, where the violin and cello swirl tunelessly around each other. Weinbach also seems only tangentially interested in writing memorable melodies, which means some of her songs sound like she's just singing any old thing as a vehicle to carry the lyrics. The end result is a fascinating album that nonetheless can't be considered a full success.