Admittedly, Two Gallants have not seen all the sights their music so often describes. This news came about when critics criticized the anecdotal two-piece for using the word “******” in their song Long Summer Day
(a song about the trials and tribulations of an American black man living somewhere he simply does not belong, unwilling to act on his rebellious human nature for the fear of God is in him), which appears on this very album. Their response emphasized the storytelling nature of their music, for if they wrote about themselves it would be quite boring, so thankfully they don’t discriminate against so-called “offensive language” or offensive anything, a notion of integrity. No good story means nothing to its author, so this controversy did not occur in vain. There is something here that was once (or still is) inside of them; my faith in this band actually lies in their reluctance to sing of anything that isn’t partly fictional, because in doing so they have kept a unique freshness across their career, and while lyricist Adam Stephens’ typical southerly fantasies persist, they have progressive momentum like the examined (alone, late at night) life of a romantic country man living in a time when cigarettes and whiskey were the medically recommended solution to sorrow, and these San Franciscan musical twins are deftly instrumental as well, well enough to be a different band on every record. “What The Toll Tells” is a majestic ode to pride, sporting a rich sound and Two Gallants most energetic songs. It is also a wanderer’s lonely haven, for epics like Threnody
and Some Slender Rest
mournfully philosophize like a deep thinking drifter atop yearning guitars, a wise old cello singing in the key of weighty experience, and burn slow like songs played during the rolling credits at the end of a film. The toll once told that these styles, ancient to the modern-day hipster crowd (with teeth sunk deep into this band), were dying, but thanks to Two Gallants they have been revived with honor and passion.
Guilt shall follow me where ‘ere I go, though I try I know I can’t escape.
That lyric, taken from Threnody
, should be on the cover of this album since it so accurately puts its sound into perspective. Noticeably throughout, even during the cheerier tunes, “What The Toll Tells” is depressed by a sub-conscious sadness, weaving it’s coldness through the music like the lonesome wind in the beginning of Las Cruces Jail
. The distinct despair of weary isolation is not usually akin to the lives of present-day California youths, at least not in this case. Two Gallants rehearse not only music, but ethnic dissimilation. You must sacrifice a part of yourself to compose this way, like how an actor becomes a different person to perform at the risk of losing sanity. What if Two Gallants have vicariously lived for so long and so profoundly, they don’t want to go back? Perhaps the band’s current hiatus proves that. James Joyce once wrote, “Think you're escaping and run into yourself. Longest way round is the shortest way home.” After reality ever so forcefully halts a bout of unreality, the victim (of their own intentions or unknowing foolishness) could surely use a break. Thankfully, that gives us time to savor the discography like sipping a nicely aged wine, allowing its bitter deliciousness to grow on you. Bitter in the sense that this modern take on days of old is rawer and more openly liable to weep than most men were back then, and as many people say the truth is hard to swallow. Two Gallants are romantic historians whose expositions on the subject are so poetically emotional it would be soulless to consider them total fiction, and even though the characters in them certainly are, they are also quite authentic variables.
I keep counsel with the dead, just enough to remind me I’m alive.
In the lyrics of Las Cruces Jail
we learn that the storyteller happens to be twenty-two years old, but the same song tells us that despite his youth, he is mature; alone in the chaos of life, his point of reference to it lies in the history of men who travelled down the same bloody, regretful path that he’s on, and wound up in the same place that he’s at, namely prison. He is alive and living well, for these steel bars are the fate of any man with enough pride and guts to be who he is. When Stephens yells the lyric “jailer better watch his pride or off my wrists these shackles slide”, coupled with the militant cadence of Tyson Vogel’s drums and a swiftly harmonizing hollow-bodied guitar, intensity happens, and by nature a man like this character would be full of heart and zeal, and if he were a musician, Two Gallants would be his band. For a few moments Adam Stephens was someone else, leading another performance among the theatrical affairs that make up a hundred-percent of Two Gallants’ music. All of the songs tell affectionate stories and the same man seems to be behind each of them, but this one takes place after all of his done deeds and murdered men, reminiscing about what he’s been through both proudly and shamefully, the latter being so noticeable in Some Slender Rest
, a miserably blue verse on the bridges he’s burnt but so desperately wishes he hadn’t, the regrettable memories of which are hitting him hard as his days start to look numbered. This sleepy nocturne sounds as though it would be intimidating to its dedicatee, a calm haunt like a betrayed spirit sitting at the foot of your bed every night, waiting for you to fess up, knowing that its mere presence is enough to remind you of your deplorable past. Memory brings many woes, perhaps more than it does fond Kodak moments, and often, threnodies like some on “What The Toll Tells” are inspired by that grief in an attempt to rekindle the flame of respect; art, it is the only communication an outcast has with an unforgiving world.
It wouldn’t be the slightest chore to elaborate on every song, but what I really want to do is give you an excuse to go listen to this. Among all the daredevil’s melodies, somber recollections and a vast improvement upon the borrowed musical styles there is simplicity, and the only thing you need to understand Two Gallants are human genes. Immaculately representative of the emotional cycle, “What The Toll Tells” is as down to earth as dirt and ready to show it. Edgy like a provoked Johnny Cash who’d been listening to lots of punk rock lately, “What The Toll Tells” is shockingly potent, derived from the best of its influences and competent enough to take them down a step on the pedestal for a showcase of Americana brilliance from two men you’d least expect to understand it. Now I don’t expect much of anybody, and anticipating is not something that describes me, but awaiting the next album from Two Gallants is like awaiting the results of an application to heaven…they have committed grand larceny on my stoic patience, but as Quentin Tarantino says (along the lines of), a good artist steals, straightforwardly. Quentin Tarantino would probably enjoy Two Gallants.