Twangy electric guitars and a slide guitar come together to make a distinctly 20th-century country music sound on this 21st-century salvo from Gifts or Creatures. Duo vocal blending and unconventional melody lines serve to create a genuine, unique flavor that makes sonic hat tips towards the great ones while contributing its own share of greatness. This is not an album to be missed by serious alt-country music fans.
The opener “Woodrow” has lyrics that are just a bit too difficult for the average listener to get and the melody is far from sing-a-long, but the overall sound is delightful. Maybe the best part of the entire track is the introductory guitar riff. It’s a nice introduction to a largely unconventional album.
The lead singer’s voice on “Relicts and Ghosts” takes on its full timbre, complete with the gorgeous complimentary female vocal to fill the sound. The song’s structure is a bit more traditional cut time classic country, including the nice backbeat rhythm section. The lyrics focus on the theme of nostalgia, looking back on personal past through items (relics) and memories of people (ghosts). Anyone whose returned home after an extended time away can easily relate to this track.
“Gospel of Glaciers” has a relaxed feeling and some complicated lyrics. Again it’s the vocal blending that helps to define the track. The backing music is part country, part mid-20th century pop. It’s a slow song befitting a smoke-filled roadside bar… albeit it one populated with some extremely-well educated (or at least those who have excellent vocabularies). The beautiful instrumental piano ballad “Lake Sturgeon” is similarly down tempo, yet complex. The interplay between the lead piano and the accenting electric guitar is pretty endearing.
“Leadlines” is heavy on the steel guitar. In fact, I think it should be pronounced “git-tar.” In any event, the traditional musicianship contrasts well with the polished vocals on all of these tracks, but especially this one. The female harmonies are so pure and sweet, it would be great to hear a little more of her as the solo lead. That said the two really blend well together on “Leadlines” along with a deceivingly complicated chill rock-country track. It would fit in on a mix tape of a real variety of styles.
The title of “Telegraph Tramp” is enough to make even the most apathetic person raise their eyebrows. The lyrics seem to have to do with old time communication devices. I’m certain there’s a metaphor at work, but I’m not sure it’s easily discernible. It sounds like Pink Floyd hired a steel guitarist… (and I’m sure I mean that as a compliment.)
“Royal Robe” is one of the best tracks in explaining the sound of Gifts or Creatures. The soft, down-tempo country sound is accented by the steel guitar and the beautiful duo vocals. The lyrics seem to be teasing a critique of class or monarchy in some way, but again it is veiled. The last track “Ship of the Clouds” is a nice relaxing instrumental in the vein of many of the other steel guitar dominated tracks on the album.
It’s a really interesting album from start to finish. It’s not going to run to the top of the pop charts anytime soon, but the sophistication that makes the album complicated is exactly what will give Gifts or Creatures a cult following. Their clever songwriting compliments their unique sound quite well. Although we tend not to cover bands that seem fit for an intellectual scene like this, it is an album worth the attention of many of our readers.