The Bloom and the Blight

Two Gallants

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The Bloom and the Blight Review

by Mark Deming

A great deal happened for the San Francisco indie folk duo Two Gallants in the five years that followed the release of their self-titled third album. The band went on hiatus for a while, guitarist Adam Haworth Stephens and drummer Tyson Vogel each released solo albums, and in 2010, Stephens nearly lost his life in a van accident while on tour in Wyoming. Returning to active duty in 2012, Two Gallants are a changed band on The Bloom and the Blight, or at the very least, they've given their studio approach a serious overhaul. On their first three albums, Two Gallants performed with a scrappy immediacy that was informed by both country and indie rock, like the quieter, bass-less children of Uncle Tupelo, but The Bloom and the Blight is the work of a band that has come to rock. Stephens' guitar work is bigger, fuzzier, and more ferocious than before, while Vogel wallops his drum kit like his life depends on it, and John Congleton (who engineered the sessions and produced the album in collaboration with the band) gives this music a gale-force impact that stops just short of arena-level bombast. However, though this album is a significantly more muscular affair than Two Gallants have offered us before, this is still clearly the work of just two musicians, and the performances reveal elements of the formal elegance of their early work, as if the grand scale of the sound has only reinforced the dynamics of the two-man band. The duo's songwriting has expanded melodically with the scope of their performing style, but the folky underpinnings that have always been their hallmark lurk beneath the stacks of amplifiers, and a few acoustic-based numbers like "Broken Eyes" and "Sunday Souvenirs" show that the heart of this band is still in the best Southern Gothic tradition. The Bloom and the Blight sounds massive enough that Two Gallants could conceivably follow fellow power duo the Black Keys into the big time, but emotionally, this music is as intimate as ever, and all the more powerful for it.

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