Top 20 of 2011: The Horrible Crowes – Elsie

 

Late in 2010 Brian Fallon announced to the world via his blog that he wanted to make an album of “night-time music”. In 2011, this ambition saw the light of day (or the dark of night) in the form of The Horrible Crowes’ debut record Elsie.

The Horrible Crowes is essentially a solo project for Fallon, frontman for New Jersey punk band The Gaslight Anthem. Gaslight Anthem guitar tech Ian Perkins is the other full time member of the band, with a rotating cast of musicians filling out the roster. The sound, while not completely removed from The Gaslight Anthem’s raucous blues-punk, is a more contemplative and subdued one than we are used to hearing from Fallon. The ever-present Springsteen overtones are again apparent, but with The Horrible Crowes Fallon delves deeper into his influences with Tom Waits, Nick Cave and even Bob Dylan influences permeating the dark, rich and sombre textures of the album. The latter is perhaps the most interesting comparison, with the loss, retribution and redemption themes present on Elsie echoing the feel of Dylan classic Oh Mercy.

In announcing the upcoming album early in 2011, Fallon told fans that it would be “a record to ache to”. The fact that this is the most fitting description possible is evidence that Fallon and Perkins have executed the vision perfectly. Songs like Sugar, perhaps the best song released in 2011, tick along under the radar bleeding emotion through Fallon’s lyrics detailing lost love and his intimate, hushed delivery. The record occasionally explodes into Waits territory on songs like the gruff-voiced Mary Ann, but the brooding atmosphere is always present. The record is perfectly paced and sequenced, with uptempo tracks like Mary Ann and first single Behold The Hurricane dropped in at just the right time to keep things moving while never detracting from the quiet contemplation that is at the heart of the work.

Fallon has never written better than he has here. Each song is comprised of endlessly quotable lyrics that swirl around the central theme of lost love and that which is left behind. The album was inspired by a time in the now-married Fallon’s life when he was reeling from a failed relationship and was, as he has said in interviews, “a crazy person”. This inspiration anchors the album around a central premise and ensures that each song builds and contributes to a whole that is even greater than the sum of its considerable parts. After making the murky journey through the record it is impossible not to respond to the chilling, furious chorus of the stunning Blood Loss, a song which concludes with a repeated refrain of “Summers they come, Summers they leave” or to the conciliatory tone of the closer I Believe That Jesus Brought Us Together, which leaves just a glimmer of light shining through the emotional gloom that pervades the rest of the album.

Brian Fallon, through The Gaslight Anthem’s 3 albums and an EP, has already built a formidable musical legacy. To say this may be his best work yet points to the fact that here, with The Horrible Crowes, we are witnessing the next step of a man who will soon belong on the pedestal that his heroes currently occupy as the greatest of American songwriters.

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