The new album from this Minneapolis-based six piece, Giants of America, shimmers with crisp musical textures and an airy, inviting sound full of intimacy that never overwhelms listeners. The production perfectly frames the band’s eight songs spanning across every imaginable genre line. These are deceptively modest compositions that conceal enormous ambitions behind an astonishingly unpretentious façade. This is music intended to truly reach every open ear rather than a narrowly tailored offering for exclusive audiences. They’ve adopted the arcane language and symbols of earlier times without ever pandering to stereotypes and it distinguishes from a host of similarly themed bands that hit all their marks with bloodless regularity.
There are moments, however, when the band exerts too much effort when they should relax. Including ambient barroom noise in the album’s opener, “Raise Your Dram”, doesn’t sabotage the song’s quality, but its relative prominence in the mix ensures it is a little distraction from an otherwise fine tune. There’s an intensely human quality in the less than-note perfect vocals that isn’t forced, however, and imbues the song with an added layer of feeling. The muted guitar starting “Battles of the Frontiers” moves from a near-whisper into beautiful two part harmonies that accentuate the band’s superb storytelling. The acoustic guitars have a jaunty bounce belying the song’s somber overtones.
“Bad Boy” is a semi-humorous outlaw song about a grudgingly repentant carouser and the marriage of music and lyrics give the song an unexpected jovial edge. Unfortunately, there’s not enough variety here to sustain the song’s relatively modest length and the song falls into a bit of a rut as it nears its end. The band’s incongruous marriages of lyric and music continue with “Kill A Man”. It’s a bit odd to hear such a dark lyric framed against the accordion and song’s percussive swing. The lyrical content, however, has real fire and impressive eloquence. “Elevators” is a memorable instrumental interlude, but it’s clear this isn’t filler. It’s a substantive musical statement with appealing jazzy inflections and great clarity. While The Gypsy Lumberjacks might favor traditional instrumentation and a stripped back approach, songs like this clearly show their virtuosity.
The same ambient barroom sounds accompanying the opener return for the rousing finale, “Love Her In The Morning”. The band’s chief songwriter and vocalist on this track, Leif Magnunson, carries the track with his fleet-fingered guitar work and clear, impassioned voice. It’s a finish in keeping with the album’s previous seven tracks that lowers a final, imminently tasteful curtain on Giants of America. However, it carries some of the same flaws that hamper the album’s overall impact. While immense technical skill distinguishes the performances, there’s a curious monotony that sets in less than half way through and the aforementioned contrasts between lyric and music in songs like “Kill a Man” will, undoubtedly, leave some listeners unimpressed.