New Artist Week continues with the sixth of seven new groups you should have your radar before 2011 ends.
Knowing absolutely nothing about Birmingham, Alabama’s 13ghosts, it took just the 10 songs of Garland of Bottle Flies (released November 8 on Skybucket) to make us think we’d stumbled across a genuine classic hiding in the American South. Swinging at circumstance, beautiful in their grappling and none too careful about who gets whacked in the tussle, 13ghosts oozes hard-nosed intention and punkish intensity, bandleader-singer-songwriter Brad Armstrong driving everything with a whip hand until they drop soaked and tired at one’s feet. When so many groups offer restraint and calculated coolness it’s a fucking joy to encounter a band who’s so obviously all in, grabbing rock by the neck and wringing out everything it can, and if their hands get a little bloody, well, that’s the price of truth in storytelling.
So many great touchstones rear their heads on Garland of Bottle Flies, but rejiggered in distinctive ways – there’s simply no mistaking 13ghosts for another band – where one picks up on the energy of primo Warren Zevon fronting Mission of Burma one minute and Archers of Loaf or the ugly side of Drive-By Truckers the next, but each helmed and informed by a mad amalgamation of Clem Snide’s Eef Barzelay, Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull and Leonard Cohen. Armstrong is poetic and calloused, a tale spinner of the highest order with a fantastic rusty hacksaw voice who picks at our wounds so we might see what’s going on under the skin, lamenting, “All these children that come from my crop grow up to hate me/ And all of my women pour me like salt into their genes.” Wow. And the wrangling energies never subside on Garland, which seethes and slow burns and boils over with roughhewn eloquence from top to tail.
Armstrong says, “I think big and messy is kind of what this band has always been about,” and that seems accurate based on this album, but he’s selling 13ghosts short because this is a profoundly artful mess, a piling on of potent imagery and alluring textures that haunts one in a ways that suit their name. It’s rare that a single album can act as a conversion experience but Garland of Bottle Flies has that capacity, sending one scrambling to hear whatever lies before this slab (including a second new album in 2011 titled Liar’s Melody).
With a sure hand and a clear-eyed tackling of circumstance and shadows, 13ghosts rages in a way that compares well with fellow under-sung American greats Richmond Fontaine and Backyard Tire Fire, i.e. rock that kicks your teeth out and then nurses you back to health, starting with a stiff shot from a jelly jar. It burns but it feels real good if you just give it a minute.