Just looking at the packaging of this release, you've gotta figure that this group is from Texas. Not only do they look like scruffy nerfherders (and leader singer/guitarist Josh Pearson wears a ten gallon hat), but the group has the gall to spread their release over 2 CDs and brag on the back "Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Playing With One Guitar" (perhaps a slight jibe to Jason Pierce and Spiritualized). If that wasn't enough, the actual front cover looks like a riff on the goofy No Limit rap covers that everyone has seen and laughed at during some point at a trip to the music store. Yup, these fellows have some Texas-sized gall, that's for sure.
The question then becomes; Do they back it up?
Surprisingly, the answer to that question is "yes, most of the time." For a concept album created around the basis that the end of the world is coming and Texas is the promised land, this disc has just the crazy amount of scope that you might expect it to have. There are slow, reflective tracks and tracks that blaze with all kinds of scorching glory, and by the end of the second disc you feel like you might just be ready for things to get ugly.
The release starts off with an introduction of the three Texas boys in an epic-sized track (which many of the tracks are, since there are only a total of 11 on the entire release) called "Just As I Was Told" that starts with a gallop, revs up to maximum fury, then slows down and withers out to nothing. You get a taste of Pearsons excellent croon (eerily similar to Jeff Buckley at times) and his guitar wails and swoons. The second track "Down Came The Angels" takes a more minimal route, with only quiet vocals and minimal percussion, while Josh Brownings bass echoes across a desolate wasteland. "Falling From Cloud 9" unvents the glorious guitars that the back of the sleeve is talking about. Starting out with a crashing of cymbals and raining guitars from the sky, it drives you backward, then lulls you with a quiet chorus before raining down the sonic assault again. Ah, the glory of effects pedals.
The statement about the guitars brings me to another point about the release, which is that it's best to listen to it loud so you can hear all the subtle sounds of the instruments churning along together (especially the guitar), as well as Pearsons soaring voice. Produced by Simon Raymonde and Robie Guthrie (formerly of the Cocteau Twins), you get to hear both lovely and loud in a surprisingly lush way. Whether it's the slow-burning "With Crippled Wings" or the almost sing-along "These Are The Days," this is a release that makes you want to whirl your arm in an air guitar motion and croon along. It's all a big, lovely racket and one of the best straight rock releases that I've heard this year.
My one problem with the release is actually that it's split into two different CDs. All the songs combined on the two releases only add up to about 80 minutes, and 2 minutes probably could have been trimmed somewhere or another. Still, it works out fairly well as two different servings (and it doesn't cost any more than a regular release). As could be expected, the lyrics on the disc are on the religious side, but they're not all straightforward praise. There are questions and doubts raised, and some deals made, but as epics about heaven and hell and the end of the world go, it's pretty damn right on. It's a bit over-the-top, but that's one of the thing that makes it so interesting. One things for sure, this release moves me more than any church music I've heard in a long time, so I've got to give some major credit to this trio from Texas.