If pissing into the wind had no consequences, it would be called The Henry Clay People. They’re the embodiment of untethered, I-don’t-really-give-damn exuberance, but their music isn’t an act of futility or recklessness. It’s intentionally untamed, wild with a purpose.
Their second full-length record For Cheap or For Free (Autumn Tone, Nov. 4) jumps in an out of the visceral and the cerebral, with nary a seam to be found. Typically, a young band hinges too much on the former, and many more times it tries too damned hard to achieve the latter. (Useless metaphor and obscure terminology does not a poet make.) But the Henry Clay People arrive at both fairly effortlessly.
Structurally, their lyrics tend to be pared-down and unpretentious, short and sweet as the saying goes. Substantively, they speak to the existential quandary someone–hell, everyone–in their early 20’s might encounter. They’re relating the experience of gut-first, day-at-a-time post-adolescent life (the visceral), but they’re not offering a gut-first translation of it (like the stage-pissing Black Lips might). Rather, they’re stepping outside of themselves, thinking before speaking, as it were (the cerebral). That sort of objective, even sometimes self-deprecating take on young adulthood usually doesn’t happen until 10 years down the road, because apparently wisdom only comes with age. The Henry Clay People might have something to say about that.
And that’s precisely why For Cheap or For Free is palatable not only for the band’s own generation, but for the half-generation older, who spent their formative, angst-ridden years wallowing in Pavement vinyl and who like to turn up the dial when Built to Spill shuffles through their player of choice.
One of the many displays of their precocious nature is found in “Something in the Water,” the opening track from which their sophomore effort takes its name. “I’ll believe in anything you’d sell me for cheap or for free,” they shamelessly proclaim, and that’s an astute self-observation. When we’re starting out down whatever path we choose, no cash in our pocket and barely a roof over our head, we’re willing to take just about any handout, and we’ll take it sincerely–not with reluctance or necessity in mind. From one perspective, that’s naivete, from another, it’s reliance before independence. But no matter the perspective, it’s a more universal and ageless notion than many would care to admit. Pride occasionally prevents us from realizing that we all sometimes drink the kool-aid, even if we’re doing it consciously. Fairly insightful for a quartet who likes to induce sweaty onstage singalong melees at their live shows, and who Esquire called “the most intoxicated band in Austin” after SXSW.
Their M.O. is much they same instrumentally. Taken as a sum, the eleven tracks on For Cheap or for Free are loud and raucous. But it’s spare, even clean noise, with arrangements that pay close attention to tempo. Crescendos wind down almost as often as they end abruptly, and sometimes there’s barely a crescendo at all. Guitars scream against a backdrop of percussion on one track (“Fine Print”), and pedal steel cries through the weepy opening of the very next (“Bulls Through”). The result doesn’t simply pace the record, but it makes plain their Southern California roots, where the fast-paced modernity of Los Angeles arose out of the quiet, dusty southwest. It’s subtly sophisticated, to the point where you can get lost in the rock and roll without appreciating composition.
MP3: The Henry Clay People :: Something In The Water
MP3: The Henry Clay People :: Working Part Time
Purchase: The Henry Clay People :: For Cheap Or For Free
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