Gently Among The Coals
Release Date: May 12, 2017
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Press Contact Bill Benson
Threefifty has been called a post-rock band before, but that seems too plain – labeling the eclecticism of Threefifty’s sound requires something that gets more obnoxiously specific – perhaps post-minimalist-baroque-folk-rock. As Spinal Tap as that amalgam may sound, founders Brett Parnell and Geremy Schulick are musicians who made their hay playing guitar duo arrangements from Bach’s The Well Tempered Clavier and have now gotten their hands on a more modern heart-on-your-sleeve genre, creating something that rings authentic in spite of the fact that it’s never really been heard before.
Borne of early infatuations with guitar-heroes ranging from Chet Atkins to Randy Rhoads to Mark Knopfler to Julian Bream, Parnell and Schulick’s musical seasoning began with their parents’ record players and led them to the Yale School of Music’s classical guitar program, countless hours in the recording studio, and on far flung tours throughout the U.S., U.K., Austria, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Now having cut four albums and landed gigs at BAM’s Crossing Brooklyn Ferry Festival and BAMcafé Live, WNYC’s Soundcheck, TEDx Carnegie Mellon University, The New York Guitar Festival, and The Englert Theatre, Threefifty has spent years learning the rules so that they might now begin to gloriously break them.
Threefifty’s first record, released shortly after moving to NYC in 2006, is a testament to the duo’s classical pedigree. Self-titled though it is, it is made up primarily of works composed by the likes of Scarlatti, Handel, and Brahms and less so of Parnell and Schulick themselves. 2009’s follow-up, Circles, is comprised of entirely original music, but adheres throughout to the acoustic guitar duo configuration that has been considered Threefifty’s bread and butter since their formation.
Released in 2013, Collapses plunged Threefifty into unmarked territory, a genre-bending triumph built on the strength of their technique, the broadness of their palettes, and their appeal as composers. By incorporating some of their dearest and most talented friends on violin, drums, voice, bass, mandolin and electronics, select tracks on Collapses showcased Threefifty’s burgeoning shift from letting their guitars do all the talking to allowing their music to speak for itself. At once bleak and encouraging, erosive and gorgeous, Collapses opened pathways to the sounds and colors that became vital to Threefifty’s identity and storytelling.
If Collapses opened pathways, Threefifty’s latest full-length record, Gently Among the Coals, finds them blazing down them with an energy and earnestness that is immediately genuine despite its indefinable novelty. Having hinted at an 8-piece configuration on Collapses, Gently Among the Coals showcases the expansive yet tightly-knit band that Threefifty has transmogrified into. From the very first track, “Crossing State Lines,” Parnell and Schulick tease with electric guitar interplay draped in overdrive and effects, only to be joined by Kenji Shinagawa’s (Riley Etheridge Jr., Mates of State, Runaway Dorothy) refreshing mandolin, Joanie Leon Guerrero’s (Darlin’ Darlin’) swaying, wordless vocals, and the swoon of Andie Springer’s (Redhooker, Hotel Elefant, Transit) violin.
This introduction and the pieces that follow reveal more of the faces, voices, and colors of the new Threefifty. “Allegiance” offers listeners their first taste of the vivid poetry of Vicki Kennelly Stock, the late mother of Schulick’s wife and fellow band member Jennifer Stock. Parnell and Schulick’s signature thematic lines are tucked into a rich tapestry of effects and musical forces, from Leon-Guerrero’s ethereal voice to Eleonore Oppenheim’s (Victoire, Bonjour, Signal Ensemble) impeccable work on bass, Evan Mitchell’s (Ghastly City Sleep, Runaway Dorothy, Los Encantados) driving percussion, to Stock’s electronically-inspired organ lines.
Gently Among the Coals breaks from Threefifty’s past yet continues to honor their journey. “Andromeda” features a middle section that serves as an homage to the baroque repertoire Schulick and Parnell mastered whilst honing their craft as classical guitarists, and “The Door” pays tribute to the infectious layered textures of Steve Reich. “Until Our Hearts Give Out” has a pulse and turbulence hinting at the post-rock explosiveness that erupts elsewhere in the album, but never fully indulges and instead sensibly pilots itself through dynamic peaks and troughs. “Fields” opens with electric guitar played through a polyphonic octave effect that imbues the sound and aura of a massive pipe organ, implying sacred music before the tide rolls into a pounding, full-band theme that ought to be played from a mountaintop.
Renowned producer and electronic musician Daedelus created the emphatically kinetic drum part for “More,” a jangly steel-string driven tune that repeatedly crumbles into splintered syncopations before its optimistic theme returns. “Running in a Burning House” is a Morricone-inspired Spaghetti-Western ballad featuring Nathan Koci on trumpet, accordion, and whistling with a vibrancy and clarity that would make a chickadee blush.
“Freedmen” is the culmination of Gently Among the Coals as well as, perhaps, what the record signifies as a landmark in Threefifty’s evolution. Built on a low-register choir and Parnell’s pedal-steel, the piece is Threefifty’s first and only track that omits the guitar. As the monasterial wane of the choral forces conjoins with the sentimental glissando of pedal-steel, it feels like Threefifty’s sanguine wave goodbye to a time when merely six strings ruled the day, a graceful, climactic shattering of their sound in the interest of plucking something new from the rubble.
- Elias Blumm
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