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Gowns - Red State

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Artist: Gowns

Album: Red State

Label: Cardboard

Review date: Apr. 24, 2007

In an age of increasingly prevalent musical globalization, the lines that once defined music via regional and/or national lines have been blurred so repeatedly that they exist now only in the form of some vague, almost forgotten demarcations that tend to operate more imprecise level than that of pure codification. The style of a people can (and is) recycled, reconfigured, and regurgitated by citizens half a world away, and while older indigenous styles may ever remain signifiers of their homeland, they’re transported to ears worldwide in new contexts, and more recent innovations tend to be disseminated so rapidly that the shelf life of a regional sound seems, at times, perhaps best considered in weeks, not months or years. So, in this modern mishmash, perhaps the search for a signature sound, as defined by geographic or cultural boundaries, is more futile than ever, though there remains music that is unquestionably a product of its environment, not immune to the rapid, seemingly inevitable, dispersion, but still quintessentially of its time and place. Gowns’ Red State is of this ilk, a disc that feels distinctly American, a fractured folk, its tendrils wet with the violated entrails of numerous other genres, music heavy with memory and hallucination.

Red State is Gowns’ full-length debut, the product of two years of working and reworking by Erika Anderson and Ezra Buchla, Gowns’ founding duo, and percussionist Corey Fogel. Their music is not without antecedent; Amps for Christ, of which Anderson was once a member, is an obvious precursor, and Gowns certainly have like-minded compatriots working in various American outposts as I type. Red State, though, is an album with a particular sound, like the sun-bleached Polaroids of one’s family, documenting personal exercises in communal cultural contexts. Melodies lie obscured under a matte of cracked electronics, trains of thought dissipate before reaching a resolution, and thick streams of static and noise disturb states of ghostly beauty. Imperfections are purposeful and frequent, and the music derails from its predetermined path with consistency. Still, despite whatever formal roadblocks are constructed by Anderson and Buchla, Red State remains an album of emotion, first and foremost, a tableaux of hazy recollection, hushed confession, and forceful behest. It’s the disc’s more embellished moments that tend to be its best, while the earnest simplicity of the more uncomplicated tracks has an allure, instances such as the ramshackle sustained crescendo of “White Like Heaven,” are where it’s at, collisions of sentiment and sound, breaking points on a disc that would feel far too conspicuously maudlin without them. At times, even with a dose of deliberate obfuscation, Red State can seem melodramatic, though Gowns’ stylistic expression is probably more a question of taste (and, perhaps cynicism) than objective excess.

On the vocal track of “Advice,” a woman is heard to reflect briefly on the pitfalls of addiction specific to those of a creative disposition, and the squandering of her own intellectual resources. It’s the album’s most transparent admission, though Red State is a disc full of disclosure and catharsis, an expulsion by Anderson and Buchla of closeted skeletons and emotional stew. This openness is a cornerstone of the album, perhaps its most palpable quality, and even with the miasma of electronics, strings, percussion, and guitars under which it operates, it’s Gowns’ cloudy rumination that dwells longest in the mind.

By Adam Strohm

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