'Forever' Is an Inspired Jolt Carving a Unique Musical Space for Vandoliers

Photo: Mike Brooks / Bloodshot Records

On Forever, Vandoliers imbue the classic country figure with punk's emphasis on community thereby establishing an individualized take on the two genres.

The Vandoliers


22 February 2019

The punk-country overlap on Vandoliers' new album, Forever, is a result of lead singer's Joshua Fleming's background. Fleming alludes to his music career in "Sixteen Years" when he identifies as "a preacher's son who lost his way for a while / I sang a poor man's song / No one could hear / It took one hundred thousand miles and 16 years." The dissolving of his Fort Worth-based punk band the Phuss lead to the Vandoliers formation in 2015. After watching episodes of the Marty Stuart Show, Fleming noticed parallels between the punk and country ethos. Hence, Forever, and the Vandoliers, are emblematic of Fleming's realization. Forever's primary idea isn't new, however. Cowpunk, a punk rock subgenre utilizing a country sound and aesthetic, started in England during the 1970s. While Social Distortion, Meat Puppets, and the Reverend Horton Heat brought the genre a wider stateside fan base. Coming off this foundation, Forever is an inspired jolt carving a unique musical space for Vandoliers.

The punk-country fusion is apparent throughout the Vandoliers' repertoire and evident on Forever. "Troublemaker" begins with Mark Moncrieff's slowly churning bass and drummer Guyton Sanders building to meet Travis Curry's fiddle. They meld the punk sensibility with a Tejano response. Cory Graves' trumpet is resonant on "Troublemaker" and consistently on the album. On "Sixteen Years" and "Bottom Dollar Boy" he sounds like a one-person mariachi band. Underscoring the distinct Texas feel, Dustin Fleming's guitar moves from a punk rumble to a country twang. All the while, Joshua's vocals are imperfect yet magnetic. As a collective, Vandoliers musically thread the two genres together.

"Troublemaker's" lyrics certainly imbricate punk rock to country music. The narrative centers on a "Troublemaker / Problem child / Ne'er-do-well, yeah American style." The image of an incendiary, a self-identified hellion, is vital to both the punk and country outlaw identity. Likewise, the Vandoliers imagine a "lost cause / I'm born to lose / I was a bad seed with nothing to prove." At first pass, these lyrics are middling if not cliche, a noticeable flaw for the overall album. But, on "Troublemaker", Fleming is especially intentional with his language and imagery. "Born to Lose" was a title to songs by Johnny Cash and Johnny Thunders, of the New York Dolls, respectively. Here the tired banality "born to lose" is a pointed and informed reference to Vandoliers' convergence of the country and punk roots.

The two genres' incongruity stems from punk's belief in community and country's reliance on solitude. Yet Vandoliers mediate the two dissimilarities in "Fallen Again". Vandoliers' figurative country character is lone and itinerant, detached from any semblance of community. Their misanthrope is one who has "been reckless, careless and selfish / Foolish in the ways of love / I woke up downtown, concrete face down / Last night I fucked it all up." But unlike standard country, Vandoliers see a community as necessary for recuperation, a clear punk tenet. As Fleming sings, "I'm still breathing / Barely holding on to the end of my rope...Can you spare some water, brother, I am dry / Can you give me a hand, I've fallen again / Teach me to breathe / Give me release / I can't do this alone." Vandoliers imbue the classic country figure with punk's emphasis on community thereby establishing an individualized take on the two genres.

Forever demonstrates Vandoliers' ability to balance solemnity and jolly. "Nowhere Fast" and "Tumbleweed" drip with anguish and regret. Yet Vandoliers don't bewail the past. They overturn nostalgia for hope when its realized "one of these days you'll have to learn / A bridge don't have to burn to get ahead / One of these days you'll come around." Despite the group's endearing earnestness, they also wield irreverence. "Shoshone Rose" is an adulation to a luxuriant casino located in Wyoming. Instead of finding any type of the self-awareness hinted at in previous tracks, Fleming finds "peace and connection on a path that I was shown / I found Jesus on the slot machines at the grand Shoshone Rose."

Forever is an invigorating album while Vandoliers are revivifying. As their career evolves, Vandoliers will indelibly redefine country music.







Washed Out's 'Purple Noon' Supplies Reassurance and Comfort

Washed Out's Purple Noon makes an argument against cynicism simply by existing and sounding as good as it does.


'Eight Gates' Is Jason Molina's Stark, Haunting, Posthumous Artistic Statement

The ten songs on Eight Gates from the late Jason Molina are fascinating, despite – or perhaps because of – their raw, unfinished feel.


Apocalypse '45 Uses Gloriously Restored Footage to Reveal the Ugliest Side of Our Nature

Erik Nelson's gorgeously restored Pacific War color footage in Apocalypse '45 makes a dramatic backdrop for his revealing interviews with veterans who survived the brutality of "a war without mercy".


12 Brilliant Recent Jazz Albums That Shouldn't Be Missed

There is so much wonderful creative music these days that even an apartment-bound critic misses too much of it. Here is jazz from the last 18 months that shouldn't be missed.


Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.


The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.


Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.


Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.


Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.


The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.


Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.


Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.


Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.


Songwriter Shelly Peiken Revisits "Bitch" for '2.0' Album (premiere)

A monster hit for Meredith Brooks in the late 1990s, "Bitch" gets a new lease on life from its co-creator, Shelly Peiken. "It's a bit moodier than the original but it touts the same universal message," she says.


Leila Sunier Delivers Stunning Preface to New EP via "Sober/Without" (premiere)

With influences ranging from Angel Olsen to Joni Mitchell and Perfume Genius, Leila Sunier demonstrates her compositional prowess on the new single, "Sober/Without".


Speed the Plough Members Team with Mayssa Jallad for "Rush Hour" (premiere)

Caught in a pandemic, Speed the Plough's Baumgartners turned to a faraway musical friend for a collaboration on "Rush Hour" that speaks to the strife and circumstance of our time.


Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."


The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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