My Favorite Band Today: Gracious Calamity

15 Aug

Gracious Calamity, part of local Boston label WhiteHaus Family Records, is polished brass folk music for people who’ve done punk, but who grow weary of the formulaicly coiffed, piss-stained, nightclubbed to death, boy-overloaded scene.

I happened to catch a whiff of what they’ve got cookin’ one day on a local radio station, perhaps WZBC  or WERS– and the scent was distinctly different from that of the rest of New England’s epicurial (which is to say, independent music) scene.  I immediately went and bought their most recent record, Carefree Since ’83, on Bandcamp.  For an absurdly cheap 5 bucks I continued to be both impressed and transported to another land.  A land free of the uptight, tight-lipped, unfriendly vibes of the North. Free of the ubermarketable folk-inspired-ish power ballads getting too much air time of late (Mumford and Bros., anyone?)  Gracious Calamity pack a different punch, full of melancholic lemon shandies infused with lilac wine.

Gracious Calamity's Kit Wallach & Kate Lee. Image via Whitehaus Family Records.

Though somewhat mysterious – all the deejay spinning Gracious Calamity had said was that they’d be playing Boston that Friday – the band had scattered slices of information available online.  GC appears to be a two-piece band that occasionally collaborates with coconspirators; Whitehaus is also a music collective, after all.  Musicians Kit Wallach’s and Kate Lee’s voices have elements of Thao Nguyen (whose collaboration with Mirah is another of my favorite musical things right now), Devendra Banhardt (get yr freak folk on, Weird America), and Joni Mitchell.  Together the pair cast tuneful spells.

According to Whitehaus Family Records’ website, Gracious Calamity is essentially all about the vocals:

At the core of Gracious Calamity is the blessing of two voices singing together. Woven around that are interlocking threads of ukulele and guitar, picking out half-remembered, half-dreamt old-time melodies. The resulting sound is something you might hear when you have been wandering alone through the jungle or a very thick forest, and you start to imagine wisps of human voice on the vine. It was probably just a bird or some far out insect. But because you are alone you tell yourself a story about two sisters who have built themselves string instruments out of plants and spend the days wandering and singing, mimicking the sounds of the forest.

But it is the melding of Wallach’s and Lee’s gorgeous sopranos with bigger sounding arrangements that make Carefree Since ’83 such a beautiful (if brief) album.  Chimes twinkle.  A deep bass steers the rhythm.  An innocent flute adds intrigue, reminiscent on “Happens All the Time” of Peter and the Wolf’s playful, silver sylvan wanderings. Crisp drumming sounds out as though its beats are on the side of a steel garbage can or an antique firearm.  Guitar and ukelele blend together, line dancing toward melody and away in sweet, gentle, slightly-out-of-tune imagery richer than the Americone dream.  As a fanatic wordsmith, the lyrics are the lunar standout for me.  Gracious Calamity has all the poetic lyricism of a Joanna Newsom ballad, complete with wacked out Biblical references, yet distinct from Newsom’s soulful harp-backed trilling.  At times GC sing a sorrowful chant floating on the front porch, and at others a ode to solitary strength (“I’ve got enough people to love/ I don’t need any other/ Don’t need another lover/ Don’t need nobody to keep me warm… In the middle of the night, in the middle of the summer”).  Rhyme schemes are toyed with cleverly and spun into woolly spiderwebs.  Songs sing out to lovers, dying relatives, travelers with perforated heels, the once-beloved who must now be replaced.  The tidy record stretches out in a summertime hammock, kicks its hemp sandals off, and in its own lovely way, rocks OUT.

Listen to “Happens All the Time”

Listen to “Stone That Grazes My Mind”

Buy “Carefree Since ’83” on Bandcamp

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