In a nation so confused about its identity that citizens now rely on Crayola boxes to define themselves ("Are you red or blue?"), American musicians have turned to one of our greatest traditions, folk music, to reinvigorate their respective music scenes. Splicing folk narratives with post-punk, psychedelia, and non-traditional instrumentation, musicians like Akron/Family, Joanna Newsom, Sufjan Stevens and Castanets have created an exciting new folk movement, and upcoming artist Adam Gnade has joined their ranks. Adam's newest album, Run, Hide, Retreat, Surrender (Oct. 25, Loud + Clear Records), is an alternately lurching and frenzied journey through our collective American identity crisis. It is a nine-track odyssey of anxiety, catatonic silence and healing, set to a psych-folk tapestry of clanging tambourines, clattering drums, ambient piano keys, and the weary but ever-searching voice of Adam himself. Run tells the narrative of doomed lovers jumping in a car and flooring it away from one set of problems, only to drive straight into a storm of self-destruction, war fever and heartbreak. Adam's spoken vocals send the listener first fleeing from trouble and then barreling straight towards it, reminding us along the way that danger can be found, but rarely escaped, just about anywhere in America.
While Adam provides the voice and vision of the record, Run's sound is fleshed out by a revolving line-up of fellow musicians and friends who happened to be hanging out in the Portland basement where it was recorded. Dan O'Hara, who produced and recorded the album, handles guitar, piano, harbor bells, church organ, and bass, and a host of accomplices provide everything from six-person drum lines to wine bottle percussion and backing choir vocals.
Whether it's just Adam and acoustic guitar or a full band beating and stomping on every instrument they can find, Run is an evocative experience, not just for the sounds but for the scents and tastes and sensations it invokes: the smell of rotting horseshoe crabs on an empty Florida beach; the drone of cicadas on dark country roads; the cry of bald tires threatening to blow on the New Jersey Turnpike. It is a record heavy with humid, festering decay, drug damage, and the displaced feeling of a generation stopped dead in its tracks.
As one listener put it, "it reminds me of the dreams you have when you're drunk, sinking to one bad place after another-only to wake up with a feeling of relief that it's over, but not exactly a happy ending."
Adam is currently in the southern US working on a novel and, after moving to the Pacific Northwest to assemble his band, will be touring this fall and winter. -