Music

Giant Sand: proVISIONS

Giant Sand mastermind Howe Gelb is equal parts Jack Kerouac, Willie Nelson, and Raymond Chandler on his collective's latest album.


Giant Sand

proVISIONS

Label: Yep Roc
US Release Date: 2008-09-02
UK Release Date: 2008-09-01
Amazon
iTunes

Giant Sand mastermind Howe Gelb is equal parts Jack Kerouac, Willie Nelson, and Raymond Chandler on his collective's latest album. The Tucson, Arizona-based rocker once again proves to be the quintessential hardscrabble outlaw-poet. Here he gives listeners a sense of riding shotgun as he tours the Southwest's dark and lonely pathways with eyes trained on the road and a solitary headlight illuminating the way. The 13 tracks which make up the album establish a fresh and rewarding style that might best be described as cowboy noir.

These are weird, wonderful tunes of hard luck, romantic exchanges and many, many miles set against musical backdrops marked by expressive guitars and piano, steadying rhythms and beautiful vocal textures. Gelb's assertion that "Out here you feel every mile and you feel every yard / Leaving love alone, I've been kicking myself…" from "Can Do" could serve as the album's thesis statement

With no help, Gelb can express a range of emotions, moving from detached narration to lonely lament (with a bit of Nelson's vocal quaver, though a deeper, drier tone) in a few easy moves. The album, however, also features stellar background vocals (from the likes of Neko Case) adding another layer of humanity, depth and, at times, uneasiness to what are already striking and edgy songs.

proVISIONS starts off strong. Early standouts like "Stranded Pearl", "Can Do", and "The Desperate Kingdom of Love" establish the album's pace and capacity for dynamic and meaningful contrast while infusing Gelb's enigmatic, charismatic personality into the songs. proVISIONS never suffers a letdown as shown in its steady march of excellence all the way to late, great tunes like "Saturated Beyond Repair" and the closer "Well Enough Alone".

Gelb's tunes are so colorful and cinematic that it's easy to either overlook or fail to mention his gifts for creating beauty and melody even in the midst of heartache and trial (even a foreboding tune like "Pitch & Sway" can enjoy and support a beautiful piano interlude). This ability is best evidenced here on two songs in the album's middle. "Increment of Love" gently lilts along, guided by Gelb's croaky sing-speak until about halfway through. As the song's instrumental break comes to a close, a single celestial guitar strum introduces a fleeting passage in which Gelb delivers one of the album's best melodies.

Next up is "Spiral", a track that opens with a gentle piano intro which establishes jazzy tonal colors and sweetly soaring melody before giving Gelb the space to whisper: "There's a lot of people out there / Having a hard time tonight / Amongst the whispers of revolution and shouts of 'hang on tight' / A lot of crippled hearts out there / Some will never mend..." A testament to the tragic beauty that can be found in the hardships of real life, the song is the one of the album's strongest, most compelling moments even in its delicacy. Cascading and even more expressive piano passages reemerge throughout the track.

There's not much to dislike about this record with its meandering instrumentals and rapid-fire vocal delivery. "Muck Machine" is a little less accessible than other parts of the album, but even tracks like that provide moments of excitement and sweetness. This collection is consistently engaging, consistently makes room for glorious little curveballs, and is consistently well-played.

Relative to the performance and execution of the record, Gelb once again shows both musical shrewdness and sensitivity in supporting his talent by surrounding himself with the immense talents of others. This incarnation of Giant Sand (featuring Danish performers Thoger T. Lund, Peter Dombernowsky, and Anders Pedersen) handles the material with skill and understanding while friends including Case, M. Ward, and Isobel Campbell lend their significant faculties.

An album that's never dull, music that's full of melodrama and humanity, a personality in Gelb that's big enough yet genuine enough to pull it all together. That's what proVISIONS has to offer and it more than delivers.

8

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Music

Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?

Music

Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.

Music

IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.

Music

Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.