“The demons are hissing, ‘What if you’re wrong? You might be wrong.’” Quote from this album, from a song called “The Angel of Doubt”.
There are a lot of so-so reviews on this new Punch Brothers album All Ashore. And I’ve got to say, motherfuckers don’t know shit.
Look, I get it. This is different from what they’ve done before. Critics are pining for the days of The Phosphorescent Blues. “They seem to have lost a certain…” bla dee fucking bla. To those that feel this way, scream your feelings into a mitt full of AA batteries, slide all those batteries into a long sock, and then swing that shit like you’re trying to kill a swarm of malaria-infected mosquitoes with a fucking flail until that shit hits you square in the jaw. But, but let me be straight with you, I’m biased. These guys are my jam. I’ve written about Chris Thile, the mandolin player and lead singer of this posse, twice. And I did a writeup on the banjo player Noam Pikelny solo album. Also, I wrote a spiel on their guitarist Chris Eldridge. But these motherfuckers are some of the greatest players alive. How can I not write about them? On their talent, I’m happy to say, nothing has fucking changed. And they still genre hop faster than a raccoon in the middle of a red-necked shotgun shootout. But this album doesn’t jump out at you like a minstrel in overalls and say, “Hey look! Bluegrass can be music to!” with some folky shit-eating grin. They’ve done that already. They convinced the fucking world of this shit. That was then. Now, it’s time to move the fuck on.
The ambiance on some of these songs is closer to early Bon Iver or Sufjan Stevens than it is to bluegrass or classical. But, unlike Iver and Stevens, this quintet wrote these songs with complex counterpoint and sophisticated fucking arrangements. Jazz or classical heads will think these dudes dumbed down their shit for accessibility. The pop and folk jockeys will find this shit overly complex and long. Truth is, these motherfuckers are using a voice they’ve carved out themselves with fucktons of courage, years of dedication and hard work, and a disgusting amount of talent. You think that the first time they decide to produce an album for themselves and they’re going to play some impersonal and unsentimental shit? Fuck that. This is who the Punch Brothers are. This is their sound. They’re going back to their literary namesake coming from the Mark Twain short story “A Literary Nightmare”, which was later called “Punch, Brothers, Punch!” In the story, there’s a song so catchy it’s like a fucking disease. The only cure to it is to show someone else the song. Once they’re infected, you’re cured. So, enjoy the sickness and spread this fucking disease. Or, as the popular heavy metal band Disturbed says “You fucker get up. Come on, get down with the sickness.”