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Andrew Graham & Swarming Branch - Classic Glass

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Artist: Andrew Graham & Swarming Branch

Album: Classic Glass

Label: Tonk

Review date: Aug. 29, 2013

Three years have passed since we last heard from Columbus songwriter Andrew Graham, who last showed up on Good Word, an exemplary and largely ignored LP for Mexican Summer – four if you count the length of time it took Graham and his band to write and record that effort. Four years would’ve been long enough for at least a dozen trends in music to crest and recede, even in the 1970s or ‘80s. With the rate that things are moving these days, forget it. Think about the bands people were hyping up in 2009 and 2010. How many are still around? What do they mean to you today?

With Classic Glass, Graham and his roving band of players, Swarming Branch, have made an attempt to lodge their music firmly in time by holding onto earlier eras, including some of the waxed mustache variety that ought to make the eyes of any Dusted reader I’d be interested in knowing roll back then glaze over in disgust. But this isn’t some weird busking activity akin to trying on new personas in some sort of Baccalaureate Whitey attempt at self-discovery, even though Graham has almost fully transformed from the kind of musician and lyricist he donned in his previous endeavor, RTFO Bandwagon. Classic Glass successfully rolls up glam rock with Americana in ways that are addictive and inspired, and totally enjoyable. This is a significant effort that could get overlooked by all the affectation Graham places on his new style of singing – the “tonk” goes a little further than just the name of a label – or the parping horns, circus organ, and reams of platitudes spilling forth out of these songs. It might be too weird for some of you because it jumps almost completely out of modern contexts, but if you were ever looking for the bridge between Corky’s Debt To His Father, The Psychomodo, The Mekons and Paul Williams (and didn’t have to go looking up any of those before coming back to this page), Graham has you sorted out.

It’s mostly keyboardist Dane Terry’s show, spotlighting his deft fingers and all-around good judgment across the pianos and synths that burrow down into these songs’ bones. But Graham has the floor the whole time, spinning madness and wisdom about religious fervor, philosophies of the hopeful and gullible, chemically-induced sins, and the folly of doubters to this whole bizarre world he’s cooked up.

My only complaint is that this work might’ve been better realized with a really strong ballad, the kind he wrote on his last record – if the tale he spins here needs anything, it’s a break from dangling the listener over the edge of zaniness the entire time. Despite all this, Classic Glass is one of the most traditionally ambitious records of this year, and the most successful at that kind of attempt. I’m sure some dickhead art schooler with a computer and a scrip for Ativan will go on to ignore history and try to make something that speaks to now and says very little, and everyone will call this person the new Nicolas Jaar, but think of how little that means now. Don’t miss out on the big ideas. Always look to the dark horse.

By Doug Mosurock

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