Review Summary: Imagine the indie-rock version of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, but with more drug use and sing/shout along parts and fun.
It was hard for me to listen to this album back in 2009 because that Native American guy just looks too smug. However, once I tore into the record, I soon realized that American Art is force to be reckoned with. Every detail of the record exudes organic vibes; from the heavily nature-themed lyrics to the animated song structures. Each track has a distinct sound and contributes to the greater picture that the album paints. The sonic effect of American Art is built around Brian Warren’s unpredictable howls and croons and guitars as grand and wild as the Great Outdoors itself.
The range of the songs across this record is fairly varied, as each song has its own defining moments which make them easy to return to. The gargantuan “Armed to the Teeth” is one of the most memorable tracks on the album, as its rugged tones and soaring vocals make for a catchy, yet timeless and irresistible track. Other songs are gripping because of their story-telling capabilities, such as the sprawling “The Dreams” and dour “The Drugs”, which along with “What is a Weatherbox"” serve as the two acoustic songs that break up the rest of the album’s loud nature. And even though a majority of the songs are hard-hitting, Weatherbox throws enough curveballs to keep things interesting, such as the humorous yet insightful bridge of “Drop the Mike” and the ever-changing song structure of “Trippin’ the Life Fantastic”, a culmination of everything the band is capable of.
While the songs themselves are exceptional, the true beauty of American Art is found in the overarching theme of the individual songs. The crux of the record is the relationship between humans and their place in the context of nature and the Earth. This is accomplished by Brian Warren’s lyrics being written in a phenomenological fashion; as an almost perfectly unbiased viewer of the conflict between civilization and nature. From the chaotic opener “Atoms Smash”, which details and contextualizes humans’ status on Earth and their powerlessness in the face of what nature decides, listeners can be assured they’re in for something not just head-spinningly catchy, but creative and unconventional in topic choice. This uniquely humble perspective propels Warren’s already-alluring song-writing to new heights, as he exposes his darkest of observations and insights in an innovative and thought-provoking manner while being backed by top-form musicianship.
American Art makes you want to throw on a pair of headphones and dig into each deliciously approachable track, but on a deeper listen, Warren’s writing and its relation to can make the listen yearn to be outside, enjoying the great big world they’re a part of. This effect is a conflict in the listener between technology/civilization and nature, which is a central theme of the record, most notable in “I Worship Raw Beats” and “The Clearing” respectively. Other themes include dissatisfaction and helpless views of humanity, which the tracks “Wolftank, Doff Thy Name” and “A Flock of Weatherboxes” bring in droves. The criticisms of humanity can be a little downing on a listener at times, but their placement in fun and hook-driven songs makes Warren’s judgments more digestible.
While American Art is clearly an impressive record in its own right, it demands more of a listener for them to truly grasp what the message is. Through all the quirky tales of loneliness and despair in the throes of society, the consistent and ever-reigning power of nature is constantly surrounding all human experiences (seen most eloquently in “Snakes, Our Ground”), and Weatherbox puts that at the forefront of this record. It can either command the immediate attention of the listener or reconstruct their views of themselves from the ground up. With enough effort, the album’s impact can be immeasurable. And the effect is transcendental. It only asks of a listener to collapse in a clearing in the woods and just let American Art take over.
This album was meant to be listened to under giant blues skies, in shady forests floors, on crawling tree roots, outside enjoying the fresh air with nature as your eternal companion. This is what American Art is at its core; the take-away message of the record is to find art by seeing yourself as part of nature. This is where that crafty-looking Native American on the cover becomes more than just a cheeky album cover, but a living example of what the record embodies. Maybe it doesn’t mean for us to leave behind civilization entirely to pick up an outdated lifestyle, but at the very least it gets us to consider the implications of the society we currently live in and question what alternative lifestyles would render.