Music

Hard Working Americans: Rest in Chaos

Photo: Jay Blakesberg

Hard Working Americans offer up a heaping helping of kick-ass, blues-drenched, old-school American rock and roll served with a side of fuck-all.


Hard Working Americans

Rest in Chaos

US Release: 2016-05-13
UK Release: 2015-05-13
Label: Melvin
Amazon
iTunes

When you name your band Hard Working Americans, you're making a bold statement that your product is aimed for a particular kind of audience.

Once upon a time, that audience would have been prominently made up of the working class, the kids who took shop and planned on factory jobs. The folks who played Creedence and Springsteen songs on repeat in their car stereos and who would listen to any new songs with a sense of suspicion, weighing whether they kicked enough ass to get added into the rotation. But that audience, and America, has changed pretty radically since Creedence broke up and Springsteen moved to Hollywood and, for some fans, got all liberalized.

The idea of "hard working Americans" has gotten complicated, because the jobs those kids in shop were prepping for got shipped overseas while we entered the new age of the robber barons. Hard work doesn't just mean knuckle-busting or back-breaking labor alone anymore; it means 40-, 50-, 60-hour weeks to maintain a basic salaried job, or a sequence of 15- to 20-hour service industry jobs here and there in search of a semblance of full-time pay (without benefits).

In his May 2016 cover article for The Atlantic, "The Secret Shame of the Middle Class", Neal Gabler cites this chilling calculation from the Russell Sage Foundation: "the inflation-adjusted net worth of the typical household, one at the median point of wealth distribution, was $87,992 in 2003. By 2013, it had declined to $54,500, a 38 percent drop." It's not just America's shrinking industrial professions that are feeling the squeeze. Incomes in many of the professional class vocations have not risen to keep ahead of increasing cost-of-living expenses in the way they had in decades previous to the middle '90s. Gabler's article is centered around a seemingly trivial fact: according to the Federal Reserve Board, 47% of respondents would not be able to cover an unexpected $400 expense without borrowing the money or selling something. If that statistic is true, nearly half of Americans pass through their daily lives one little stumble away from financial crisis. An unexpected car repair of trip to the emergency room can set off an avalanche of fiscal insecurity.

There should be a large audience for the bold new Hard Working Americans record, and not just because the times are so tough. Rest in Chaos just plain kicks some serious ass. The band is comprised of Todd Snider (lead vocals), Dave Schools (bass), Neal Casal (guitar), Duane Trucks (drums), Chad Staehly (keyboards), and Jesse Aycock (guitars). They've been tagged as a supergroup because of the members' previous credentials: Schools founded Widespread Panic; Casal was a member of Ryan Adams' Cardinals and is himself a well-respected singer/songwriter; Staehly has played with Great American Taxi and Trucks comes from Southern rock royalty and spent four years as part of Colonel Bruce Hampton's band. This is Hard Working Americans' second album, their eponymous debut having been released in 2014. That record offered a smart collection of covers of strong contemporary songwriters like Will Kimbrough, Kevin Gordon, Brian Hennemen, and David Rawlins & Gillian Welch, highlighted with a mournful version of Drivin 'n Cryin's "Straight to Hell". This record finds the band staking their own claim to a neo-realism in their songwriting, led by Snider, building on the models they've followed.

The first single and album opener, "Opening Statement", sets a tone of grit and whiskey-soaked honesty. Over a fuzzy, ringing guitar riff, the bass and organ kick in to lay down a smoky groove for Snider's anti-press conference commentary. The song underlines the kind of cultural anxiety and malaise Gabler describes in his article, highlighting our desperate, collective search for release, "We're going down that road / Feeling bad because that's what people do / It's like every night is a Friday night / And every day is a Friday night too." This is tell it like it is songwriting, flipping a middle finger in self-destructive spite at a wider world that kills us slowly. Dare to look for meaning and you're stuck with a "Half Ass Moses".

The album's songs are a collection of hard-lived hard luck tales. "It Runs Together" tells a fast-paced story of love at first sight in the alcohol treatment clinic and escape into a royal bender that ends with news of Phil Hartman's murder by "a girl we knew from the clinic" leading to a mix of bitter humor ("seemed like her dream to be on TV was coming true") and self-reflection ("In my will there will be no dispute / That I left everything to chance"). The narrator of "Burn Out Shoes" expresses neither apologies nor regrets for the rock and roll downward spiral he is on, declaring "I say, 'Believe in me or to Hell with you' / Ain't that exactly what Jesus would do." In "Acid", the narrator shares a similar dark humor, ruminating over a career on the edges of rock and roll fame, undone by the drug of the title, but giving a shout-out to the Moody Blues. "Massacre" sums it all up in beautiful loser poetry, "Broken people can't be stopped or saved / We're like hurricanes or tidal waves / We leave a little mark on you like oh so what / So does lipstick on the sidewalk end of a cigarette butt."

The album's title comes from its most mournful song, "Ascending into Madness", which is destined to get played at a hell of a lot of funerals for a hell of a lot of the kind of badass pluggers, fighters, and strivers who populate this excellent album and who represent, at the end of the day, regular people with big hearts trying to make it through hard times. "I'll quit drinking for the reason I started drinking / When it makes me feel better than I already do," sings Snider in a great line as he bids a farewell, "Rest in chaos, my old friend."

Like the first, Dave Schools mans the production booth. He keeps Snider's voice in the front of the mix to emphasize the lyrics while supplying as well a deep bottom for the band to rock hard. Rest in Chaos is one to put on the car stereo, hit repeat, and drive. Destination: wherever the hell it takes you.

8

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

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.

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 .

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.

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.


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.