Without wanting to go all NME on you (see New Yorkshire, the New Rock Revolution, Generation Punk, C-86 for examples of lumping a load of bands together and calling it a movement) there’s some sort of New Americana Revolution going down across the pond right now.
New and Americana might not intuitively sound like two words that go together; it’s a genre that is still dominated by the titans of the past, Neil Young, The Band, Gram Parsons and alike. However, whilst it’s a genre never far from a revival, the recent crop seem to have something a bit more special about them.
The first seeds of something exciting happening could be seen at the back end of last year, releases from the likes of Hurray For The Riff Raff, Sturgill Simpson and Hiss Golden Messenger, were well received and exciting, they seemed to actually garner attention as well, at times even stretching beyond the odd column in Uncut. The momentum seems to have been carried forward into 2015, where there’s been a bumper crop of emerging artists still maintaining the genre’s history of musical craftsmanship and open, honest story telling.
Records from the likes of Alela Diane & Ryan Francesconi, Gill Landry and Paul Bergmann, showed the genre still has plenty to say, and plenty of talent left to say it. Even some more familiar names seemed to be reaching new levels of acclaim, Ryan Adams profile has never been higher on the back of his Taylor Swift covering antics, and Wilco proved that by giving away your record for free, calling it Star Wars and putting a picture of a cat on the cover, they can still cause serious ripples in the fabric of musical culture.
Even outside of its native home in the Southern States of America, there’s been plenty of wonderful records taking inspiration from the ageing genre; Tina Refsnes has emerged like a Norwegian Joni Mitchell, London quintet The Hanging Stars are the missing link between the grey skies of the English capital and the sunshine of the California desert and Andy Shauf, who’s just signed to Anti, has shown that even in the depth of the Canadian Winter you can embrace the ghosts of Nashville and New Orleans.
Americana has arguably never been more intriguing since it first emerged into the world back in its 1960’s heyday. Proof that even in a world where music is getting further and further from its roots, there’s still plenty of great music that’s reminding us where it all came from in the first place.
Cicada Rhythm are the classic musical odd couple, consisting as they do of Juilliard trained double-bassist Andrea DeMarcus, and “dishevelled vagabond of a guitar player”, Dave Kirslis. Their new album was recorded with acclaimed producer Drew Vandenberg, known for his work with Deerhunter, of Montreal and Toro y Moi to name but a few.
Cicada Rhythm are a band who dabble with all the many shades of roots, folk and Americana. The duos disparate musical backgrounds acting as a wonderful counter-point to the others, Dave’s guitar work, going from intricate picking to more straight-forward rock riffing, Andrea’s, unsurprisingly outstanding, bass-playing going from atmospheric swells to warbling, twanging solos. It’s musically detailed, intricate and most importantly a dream to listen to.
Despite Andrea’s New York education, Cicada Rhythm are based out of her home state of Georgia, and to be more precise the states 6th largest city, Athens. Confirming something we’ve always wondered but never looked up, Athens is twinned with, you guessed it, Athens in Greece, sadly it is not twinned with anywhere in the country of Georgia. Athens has a number of noteworthy musical acts, most famously REM, the city is also home to of Montreal, Drive By Truckers and The B-52s, as well as the late Vic Chesnutt.
Cicada Rhythm formed four years ago, when both members found themselves at musical cross-roads. Unhappy with being forced into the Juiliard sound, and not wanting to play for the sake of her resume, Andrea had returned to Georgia and started writing songs on the guitar but was unhappy with her makedo guitar playing. Dave was unhappy with his other musical projects not offering him enough scope to expand his songwriting and had started riding freight trains, which is rather clichéd but charming none the less. A stop off at a friend’s led to a chance meeting with Andrea, and despite her initial scepticism a band was born. They’ve toured relentlessly and honed their sound, and will soon unleash their self-titled debut album via Normaltown Records.
The music of Cicada Rhythm is the music of contrasts. With song-writing duties shared between the duo, their different styles lead to the musical equivalent of drawing a line down the middle of the room and saying this is mine, and that is yours. Musically, Andrea’s compositions are somehow more organic, they seem to be more enveloping and atmospheric, possessing a gentle wistful sadness, while Dave’s are brighter, breezier and more outwardly free, loose and wild.
Their lyrical styles too are almost opposites, Dave writes as an old-fashioned story-teller, his lyrics straight-forward, and knowingly sincere, Werewolf tells the tale of his internal conflict, and asks us to sympathise with his inner demons, while In The Garden is a rare step into his more surreal inner-workings. Andre’s lyrics are considerably more opaque, she shares a few key details and asks the listener to piece together the details, in many ways a similar style to Joanna Newsom, a singer with whom she certainly shares some vocal inflexions as well. In The Keeper, we find her restless, pleading with someone, “came to have distrust for happiness” and asking, “can’t you feel the ground, holding you?” On Shadows Before You, a creepy slice of Southern-gothic, she seems to see only trouble hidden behind every twitching curtain,
For all their differences what they do seem to share is a musical idealism, there’s an authenticity, working with a producer who seemed to share their musical aesthetic, they have managed to create a record that feels timeless. That the whole thing was recorded to analogue tape shows a stunning attention to detail, and it’s these minutiae that give the album its charm, whether it’s the haunting swelling outro to Shadows Before You, the gorgeous warm organ tones and distant slide guitars on The Keeper, or the constantly wonderful entwining vocals, they sound less like harmonies and more like two voices singing the same notes with their own personal tones causing beautiful fluttering variations in the sound. If musical adulation was all about who could make the most beautiful sounding music, Cicada Rhythm would be one of the biggest bands in the world right now.
You may find that on first listen you think this collection lacks variety, which would be a fair comment. You may find Dave’s vocal when left without the comforting backing of Andrea can sound a little strained. You may not share our enthusiasm for a genre that is arguably backward glancing. However, to our ears this is just a wonderful slice of music, beautifully crafted, wonderfully recorded and utterly gorgeous.
Cicada Rhythm is out via Normaltown Records on October 30th. Cicada Rhythm are currently on a US tour, no UK dates announced as of yet.