Are These United States the anti-alt-country band? Their music certainly is enough to give listeners pause for thought. While Ryan Adams and Lucero have gotten a lot of traction out of crying in their beers over haggard and forlorn country rock, the Brooklyn band dares to look on the sunnier side of the dust bowl.
It’s a bold strategy considering how much success their peers have had living up to the sad luck and hard-living ways of their outlaw country forebearers, but These United States carry themselves with such hope and wistfulness that you eventually forgive them for not being heartbroken and miserable. The band’s latest self-titled offering doesn’t deviate from the script, offering up 11 tracks that explore the place where ambient indie and country twang cross paths and shake hands.
Songs like “Two Gods”, which meanders along at a Fogerty-esque mid-tempo, and the rumbling country rock of “The Angel’s Share” capture the record’s overarching pleasantness in full, turning the guitars up just enough without alienating their palatable pop sense. Elsewhere, the band taps into the more fun-loving side of its country roots on “Not Gone Tonight”, which rollicks along like a drunken cross between Drive-By Truckers and My Morning Jacket.
But this isn’t to say the band’s living life carefree in the clouds. Lyrically, the record often finds them in a restless place, one that offers more questions than answers. But the band’s willingness to persevere rather than fall victim to the misery gives These United States a winning quality. When singer and chief songwriter Jesse Elliott muses achingly in “Never Stop Falling”, “I might die trying to wrestle with the world/ But I’ll never give up falling in love,” it speaks volumes about the band’s never-say-die spirit.
There’s a certain amount of humility that comes with listening to a band find the positive in working through struggle, and it’s something These United States have made work in their favor. Sure, the world’s full of woe-is-me mope rockers. It’s just nice for once to listen to a band try and do something about it.
Essential Tracks: “Never Stop Falling”, “The Angels Share”, “Not Gone Tonight”, and “Two Gods”