It seemed quite hard to believe that Two Gallants could fulfill the expectation created by the quality of their first LP The Throes, but even the angels on the cover of this second album, What the Toll Tells, appear to be amazed that they have done so. And it is understandable. First, the production from new label Saddle Creek improves the sound of its predecessor, and the San Francisco-formed duo doesn't spare us a moment to miss it, opening with the rocky "Las Cruces Jail," probably the most powerful song of their short discography so far. After the second cut, the slow and beautiful "Steady Rollin'," this pair of friends manages to persuade you that they are capable of stunning you again with the similar poetic, sad stories that thrilled you on the previous album. To that end, they don't mind offering nine-minute pieces which rummage inside the most hidden and bitter emotions of human beings, building irregular structures where the rhythm and musical strength vary as a function of the story they tell, contrary to what is usual. It is worth pointing out, however, that in some moments the similarity of chords might cause a sense of reiteration and even a slight saturation, since the musical pulse could occasionally overwhelm the small quantity of instruments (guitar/harmonica/drums). Nevertheless, this just happens if we listen to it as background music without paying attention to what it's intended to convey and, on the other hand, it indicates that what Two Gallants do is neither folk nor rock, but a high quality folk-rock. So as you go through the album, you run into masterpieces like "Threnody," a harsh ballad about love, loss, and blame, with a crushing intensity that ends up tearing you apart, "Waves of Grain," a political complaint-turned-poem, and above all, "Age of Assassins," a brilliant example of this band's music, where in eight minutes vitalizing tempo highs and lows are combined with breathtaking metaphorical writing about the burden of life. This, together with Adam Stephens' dramatic voice and melancholic harmonica, results in an ideal soundtrack for the personal, decadent stories everyone has. Because it appears these beatnik-like guys have found the secret that only the greats know: to take the form as the substance, helping to evoke what it is inside of us instead of telling us how we are.
AllMusic Review by Alfonso Goiriz