Punch Brothers, Antifogmatic

Punch Brothers, Antifogmatic

What do you get when you combine five musically gifted musicians who play the fiddle, upright bass, mandolin, guitar, and banjo? If you’re thinking a bluegrass band, you’re wrong.

On paper, Brooklyn transplants the Punch Brothers look primed and ready for the main stage of the Telluride Festival, or maybe for numerous appearances with Garrison Keillor. In fact, they’ve already played Telluride and are frequent performers on A Prairie Home Companion. However, the band would fiercely contest that walking like a duck and looking like a duck does not make one a duck.

“We are not a bluegrass band and people look at us and think we’re a bluegrass band all the time. We’re just not,” insists Chris Eldridge, guitarist for the Punch Brothers. Chris Thile, mandolin hero and lead singer, continues the genre-busting proclamations, saying that “worrying about where you stand in relation to a genre will only ever sort of squelch creativity.” So what has the band created in Antifogmatic?

Antifogmatic isn’t the album of a band who defined their sound but rather documentation of the growth of the band as they stretch and reach beyond the borders of musical genres. By hand-picking musical themes and interpreting those sounds through bluegrass instrumentation, the Punch Brothers have chosen to carve out their own space on the musical map.

One moment you’re back with the band’s bluegrass roots with “Rye Whiskey,” then a few tracks later, you’re swept away in the swell and break of “A Woman and The Bell.” There are miscues, notably the schizophrenic “Next to the Trash,” which feels stitched together from the scraps of failed writing sessions. Playing around with the musical style comes at a cost to the cohesiveness of the album. No one wants a homogeneous album, but you do want to connect and make sense of it all. The approach of Antifogmatic will likely lead you to pick and choose songs rather than continuously listen through the entirety of the album.

For all the musical experimentation, it’s Thile’s lack of lyrical artistry that make a promising song unpalatable. “You Are” and “Me and Us” continue Thile’s unfortunate inclination to write lovestricken, cringe-worthy lyrics that reflects poorly on the musical maturity of the whole band. Considering the purity of their recording style, Antifogmatic is brought down by the terrible lyrics of some songs, despite the surreal beauty of other songs like “Alex” and the “Welcome Home.”

Antifogmatic is not a concept album but an album of concepts. As of now, Antifogmatic is an experiment on how far the quintet can stretch their sound beyond the rigid confines of their instrumentation. At the same time, the Punch Brothers haven’t created a totally new sound in the way that Radiohead created the “Radiohead” sound with Kid A. While there are tracks illustrates the band’s musical concept, overall, Antifogmatic presents more questions than answers.

(Nonesuch Records -- http://www.nonesuch.com; Punch Brothers -- http://www.punchbrothers.com)
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Wednesday, September 1st, 2010. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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