Two Gallants are stripping down. To get an idea of the overall tightness of The Bloom and the Blight, the San Francisco-based guitar/drums duos first album since 2007s self-titled, it should be noted that at 33 minutes, its an entire 25 minutes shorter than 2006s What the Toll Tells and only five longer than the 2007 EP The Scenery of Farewell. Additionally, save for that weird submerged organ sound on Willie and the piano on Sunday Souvenirs, youll find little here but Adam Stephenss vocals, his guitar, and Tyson Vogels drums — no cello, violin, double-bass, or anything else that might have found its way into those aforementioned releases or 2004s The Throes. But despite (or maybe because of) the lack of clutter, this is an album at least on par with any of the Gallants prior output.
After the power-chord flail of ironically titled Halcyon Days, things quiet down for a couple of minutes with Song of Songs. This sort of soft-to-loud dynamic is present throughout the album, whether its the perfectly lazy country lament Broken Eyes immediately preceding the strum-happy stomp of Ride Away, or the spare fingerpicking of Winters Youth being punctuated by the two-and-half-minute romp Willie. While its probably true that this is the Gallants heaviest album yet, its ultimately some weird strain of alt-Americana which is to say its actually not too much of a departure from the band’s traditional sound, even if the punchier corners of the record lead you to believe otherwise.
Something aint quite right with me, sings Stephens, whose voice still hits like Jack Whites crossed with Conor Obersts, in the chorus to My Love Wont Wait, and the lyrics of The Bloom and the Blight usually tie in with that notion. Themes here include unrequited love, lost relationships, mistakes, and the need to escape, all of which have been covered plenty by this band in the past. Whats different is that Stephens is noticeably less emo now, and the chances that youll find a line awkward (i.e., a line like The Throes If liquors a lover, you know Im a whore) are slim to none. No doubt this could vex some diehard fans, who might find Stephenss past idiosyncratic oversharing charming, but overall its a positive that the musical tightness is met with economy in the literature of the album (cue Dubliners reference).
It might be unreasonable to expect a stone-cold classic out of a half-hour album these days, but suffice it to say the Gallants have carved out a showing strong enough to mostly justify the half-decade wait for it. In other words, its good to have these guys back.
Essential Tracks: Halcyon Days, Broken Eyes, and Ride Away