Justin Vernon is no stranger to mystique. While his breakthrough debut album as Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago, tugged everyone’s heartstrings with Vernon’s oddly-masculine falsetto, the music was overshadowed by its romantic, backwoodsy legend. After the well-received Blood Bank EP, the self-titled follow-up LP went in a cinematic and slightly experimental direction, but Vernon was still overwhelmed by the amount of attention focused on this project, leading to its hiatus. In Bon Iver’s wake came The Shouting Matches: three “grownass men” grooving and blues-rocking out on heavy slide guitars.
This attempt at a project that wouldn’t be under a laser-focused limelight failed as the bloggerati hype machine has not only built up their two records – the unreleased 2008 EP Mouthoil and the soon-to-drop album Grownass Man – but somewhat undersold any relation of these records to Vernon’s previous work. There’s still rich, doo-wop harmonies, name-drops for various American cities, and that famous falsetto – it’s just more rootsy and heavy. This blues-centric feel reminds a bit of Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite‘s recent collaboration Get Up! as well, but with a garage-rock vibe. Check out Vernon’s switch from whine to distorted howl on “Heaven Knows“: [LISTEN]
Heaven knows you’re the kind of lady
That could shoot me in the foot
And take all of my possessions
And then hit me with the boot
They shine most on ballsy tracks like that one, but also run the gamut from alcohol-fueled escapism over uptempo country (“Mother, When?“), gospel-based Jackson 5 influence (“New Theme“), and classic rock reminiscent of “Beast of Burden” (“Seven Sisters“). The overall aura cultivated is of a sunset at Langerado (RIP), the kind of music that magically puts a Shock Top (or virgin strawberry lemonade) in your hand and shades on your eyes, reminding you it’s been too long since you went to a summer festival.
While not quite as hipster-friendly or groundbreaking as Bon Iver, The Shouting Matches are a slick listen and put on a solid show. They may not be quite the anti-Bon Iver as advertised, but don’t let your feelings about the latter affect your first listen of the former. The sentimentality may be diminished, but you always knew that the guy who birthed his breakthrough album from a cabin in the woods was a ‘bear‘ at heart, bad news and all:
Oh baby I’m a bear
I’ll bring you bad news