Review Summary: Late night red wine and reefer music.
Ever since deciding to fuel his adolescence on a steady diet of Weezer, Belle and Sebastian, and Elliot Smith, Donald Ducote always wanted to be a musician. Not just another poster boy or attention seeker either, he wanted to be a real musician. One who didn’t give a *** about money or the man; one who poured his heart out; one who would make a difference. The initial offspring of this dream was My Sister, a band he formed in 2004: a forgettable five-piece doomed to failure following a tangle with the label head’s girlfriend. Soon he was working with an X-Factor. Not exactly living the dream, is it?
It was around this time Ducote must have realised how far he’d moved away from his original mandate. He hadn’t changed the world or inspired thousands of people: he was a cog in the cynical vampire of a music industry, and a pretty small cog at that. One could imagine him waking up on a lonely pillow still soaked in last night’s tears of disappointment. It’s in this cycle where something wonderful happened: he stopped trying. With the help of an old friend, Jim Smith, with Paul Johnson (who's mixed for Beirut) and Austin Lemieux, he was going to write songs for himself. The band was eventually titled Ancient History, possibly as an initial hint to the deep veins of catharsis meandering through Ducote’s lyrics of loss, disappointment and confusion in his past.
True to form, Ancient History frames this personal tale with a hazy, lo-fi production reminiscent of Ducote’s 90’s-indie idols. Shufflingly slow tempos set the stage for guitar and sighed vocals which echo into a communal humm. The sparsely used percussion thumps shyly in the background: used more as texture than solid foundations. When they want to be powerful, such as “I Know It’s Late” and “Quiet Nights in Noisy Neighbourhoods,” Ancient History adopt dream-pop guitar drones as sharp whines in otherwise smoky scenery. A positive note drowned in depression: like Sparklehorse’s nonchalant musical tone in view of harrowing lyrics, or The Smith’s decision to play upbeat music while Morrissey is allowed to, well... be Morrissey. Ducote’s vocals seem distant and almost disinterested -breathless in the way a man in his emotional position must force himself to do anything- and in the light of the drugged up atmosphere this seems perfect.
Tracks progresses much like a steady trudge through tough terrain, with a permeating tiredness and plenty of breaks for instrumental refrains. The tone goes further than Ducote’s self description of “late night red wine and reefer music,” as it emerges as more defeated than he possibly intended. Ducote is very much playing the image of an old man reliving the mistakes of his life, in this sense: the memories are conveyed with exhaustion instead of emotion. The sullen approach he incorporates doesn’t leave much room for energy, and the only point Ancient History approaches dramatic is an angry climactic outburst of “you say you know I can’t let go/ but don’t be so sure that you know me.” A message to Ducote’s peers, perhaps, or the initial motivation for the album summed up in two lines.
It seems ironic after so much trying that Ducote’s finest hour would occur after he gave in. Tracks is a call-back to his early influences, but distinctly personal both lyrically and stylistically. It’s refreshing, too, to hear a man’s grievances in such a nondescript format without the cynical emotional cues (build-ups, breakdowns, strings) to bolster them, mostly because it holds up so well on its own. At points Tracks can appear pretty rough around the edges and slightly dreary, but consider it inevitable for something so deliciously raw.
I really love this album, nothing else has been listened to in the past 3 days. Hopefully it gets a physical release. Although the stream says it was released last year, it was officially released on 29/1/13
The artist you reviewed has responded to this in an e-mail to us. Apparently you are a fan of revisionist history -- or you just made it up cause you weren't sure ;):
In regard to the review of TRACKS on your website, I thought I would point out couple of things that could probably be corrected:
-The first band I was in was called My Sister in 1994 and it was formed in 2004. I have not been struggling for 2 decades as I just turned 30 years old. I hope this does not make you appreciate my record any less.
-Never worked with X-Factor, I worked with Leon Jackson who, three years prior, won X-Factor.
-Paul Johnson mixed the record and mixed Beirut's Lon Gisland EP, he does not a member of Beirut as your credit implies.
Regardless, I am by no means upset and I really enjoyed reading your review of the record. I am quite appreciative. I just saw the comments and noticed you were looking for feedback/constructive criticism, so I thought I'd reach out. Cheers and thanks again for listening.
Holy shit, I had no idea. Please forward my apologies, I'll try to edit the review later this evening.
No making up involved, though. Here's the text I was working off, from a music blog I assumed to be correct. Still, I should have known much better.:
In a Tennessee Wal-Mart in the mid-1990s, a young Donald Ducote chose Weezer’s Pinkerton over the new Aerosmith release, a fateful first foray into the world of lo-fi indie rock. Over the years, he continued to build a steady collection of influential music with the likes of Elliot Smith’s Either/Or, Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, Jeff Buckley’s Grace, and Belle & Sebastian’s If You’re Feeling Sinister. Discovering these records opened up his passion for playing and writing music, which ultimately led him to leave Arizona State University to pursue his music career.
In the summer of 2007, Ducote left his hometown of Phoenix for Brooklyn, where he formed and fronted a “5-piece genre-bending cacophony” of an indie rock outfit called My Sister in 1994. They soon became a fixture on the DIY scene in Bushwick, performing at venues like Market Hotel and the Asterisk*, and attracting moderate attention from European independent labels. For their final record together, Monitor, Ducote invited Jim Smith (the National, Au Revoir Simone), a regular at the coffee shop he managed at the time, to produce the record at Saltlands in Brooklyn. Ducote was ultimately unsatisfied with the record, primarily because of the sterile studio environment in which it was recorded. On top of that, Ducote became the victim of the dangerously unstable obsessions of the label owner’s girlfriend, which led to the termination of the tentative contract and eventually the end of the band itself.
As his next relationship dissolved in a drawn-out mess of disappointment and duplicity, his songwriting took a more personal bent, focusing more on relationships than he ever had in the past. His new songs married the poetically strung-out catharsis of his long-admired Elliott Smith with the vivid kitchen-sink minutiae of Belle & Sebastian. He and Jim Smith reconnected about making another record, with a completely different approach to capturing the sound that eluded them during the Monitor sessions.
To do so, Ducote and Smith decided to return to the home-recording style Ducote had employed on his second My Sister album, In Tall Cotton. They brought an impromptu studio setup to the French Kicks’ rehearsal space which included a twelve-track tape recorder and Jimi Hendrix’s original vocal microphone from his famed Electric Lady Studios. They enlisted Paul Johnson (Beirut) to play bass and mix the record, and guitarist Austin Lemieux to fill out the sound under the moniker Ancient History.
Over the next year and a half, Ducote was commissioned by Universal/Polydor to consult on songwriting with UK’s Must Be The Music 2011 winner Emma Gillespie. That trip also led to working with UK’s X-Factor 2007 winner, Leon Jackson. Simultaneously, Ducote worked with Smith to record the eleven songs that he termed “late-night red-wine-and-reefer music”. The result is a collection of indie/lo-fi/slowcore mix of heroin-slow tempos, pure analog warmth, delicate dream-pop guitar drones, improvised percussion, and Ducote’s captivatingly detailed confessionals full of ex-lovers, disappointment, disillusionment, physical breakdown and “loss, loss, loss.” The album, titled Tracks, will see its official release on January 29, 2013.