Review Summary: There’s no sun rising off the coast of Sicily.
Colorado native Erik Wunder proves perfectly capable of expressing himself in various musical settings. Aside from the noisy black metal of the highly esteemed Cobalt albums, Wunder also revels in dark Americana of the highest caliber. The first record he released under the Man's Gin moniker was one of 2010's most pleasant surprises. Smiling Dogs
delivered a dazzling spin on American roots music that seethed with raw emotion and post-apocalyptic vibes. Wunder expands on the stripped-down aesthetic of that album with a significantly more elaborate sound of Rebellion Hymns
. This time around the acoustic guitar, piano and upright bass are often complemented by cello, violins, slide guitar and harmonica. In consequence, the new full-length feels much grander in scope, combining the artist's routinely top-notch songwriting with more refined production techniques to startling effect.
All songs are linked by Wunder's distressingly poetic lyrics and strong baritone vocals. His bereft howl lends the music undeniable substance. “Inspiration” packs a punch with its reassuring exhortation to chasing dreams at all costs. The track reaches its pinnacle when Wunder begins screaming at the top of his voice, channeling in the process the fierce intensity of grunge's greatest singers, such as Eddie Vedder and Layne Staley. The record might be overbearingly bleak, yet it never ceases to be dynamic and admirably varied. Every song shows qualities that distinguish it from the pack. “Varicose” tells the heartbreaking story of lost love to the understated accompaniment, while “Off The Coast Of Sicily” works as a requisite binge anthem due to its stomping rhythms, slightly over-the-top vocals and fatalistic lyrics. The cinematic "Old House" wallows in an eerie interplay between moody piano and off-kilter guitar soloing. The most upbeat cut comes with “Never Do The Neon Lights,” a superb country-folk tune that boasts one of the most anthemic choruses of the year. In contrast, “Hibernation Time” makes the best of its oddly uplifting orchestration, closing the album on a blissfully atmospheric note.
isn't exactly a flawless record, though. While there are absolutely no misfires amid the long tracks which hardly ever overstay their welcome, the frequent interludes often disrupt the flow of the disc instead of maintaining it. Putting this petty shortcoming aside, the new Man's Gin endeavor proves both exceptionally far-reaching and achingly personal. It also marks a resounding triumph for Wunder whose tremendous talent for crafting poignant folk rock is in a class by itself. As decidedly gloomy and desperate as his output may get, it always bursts with creative vitality which makes Rebellion Hymns
wildly engrossing throughout.