California Literary Review

When You See Sparks

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Album Review: Unentitled from Slim Cessna’s Auto Club

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April 10th, 2012 at 3:40 pm

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Slim Cessna's Auto Club: Unentitled

Artist: Slim Cessna’s Auto Club

Album: Unentitled

CLR Rating: ★★★★☆

Country punk. Gothabilly. Southern Gothic. Americana. While no one seems to agree on a label for the music that Slim Cessna’s Auto Club makes, there is a general consensus of themes. Clearly this is a kind of country music that transcends the standard heartbroken twangs and bitter betrayals that abound on the radio. This music is something darker; it’s the country hidden beyond the well-traveled farms and ranches, yet ultimately resonating with the frenzied arrythmic lubdub of the American heartland.

With their 2011 release Unentitled, Slim Cessna’s Auto Club has once again spoken to “the good people” – as they’ve dubbed their faithful but small group of followers. The album is a solid construction, with music ranging from approachable country and western-tinged rock (“No Doubt About It”) to songs that feel like waltzes crossed with solemn religious processions (“United Brethren”), all with a thread of some anxious Southern discomfort for good measure. Slim’s vocals possess a rich but harrowing higher pitch that he uses to counterpoint co-frontman Munly’s dark, funereal bass entreaties, creating juxtapositions in such songs as “The Unballed Ballad of the New Folksinger” and “Hallelujah Anyway” that compel attention without demanding it.

“A Smashing Indictment of Character” is one of a few songs on the album that clearly stand out. Clapping, a gospel choir, and a tent revival-style organ build in pitch and fervor only to later successfully slacken to evocative slide guitar and vocals reminiscent of 50s slow dance rock. Like the music, the lyrics are catchy without kitsch, and infuse the entire song with a sense of triumph.

“Three Bloodhounds, Two Shepherds, One Fila Brasileiro” evokes some of SCAC’s previous works, returning to a theme of grisly country justice. Like the titular hounds the rhythm is relentless, pursuing the listener long after the song has ended with its steady pulse and gothic banjo. There is even music to bury by. The fevered whispers of “My Last Black Scarf” entreat the listener to “dig the pit, fill the pit” (a song shockingly more about transgression and redemption than death), giving way to glimpses of California surf rock that are enmeshed within the tune’s country pluckings.

Not all of the songs have the strength or power of “Smashing Indictment” or “Three Bloodhounds;” “Thy Will Be Done” seems like familiar territory for the band, and “Hallelujah Anyway” is a song that works more as an onstage set piece than a solo listening venture. However the album is decidedly stalwart as a whole, and a worthy purchase for any newcomer to the band as well as staunch fans.

SCAC describe their music as “American, ” and like many American ventures Unentitled is built from a dark soil. Ultimately it will resonate with listeners fascinated with the very American darkness that is largely unseen beyond the shining neon of contemporary country pop, and those curious to explore a musical culture less recording room petri dish and more compulsively contagious.

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Slim Cessna’s Auto Club’s Album Teaser for Unentitled

  • me

    I have to agree with most of your analysis, though I’d have to say that “Hallelujah Anyway” is probably my second-favorite song on the album after “Smashing Indictment of Character.” While its strange stop-start beat and incredibly creepy spoken monologue can be kind of off-putting, like “That Fierce Cow Is Common Sense In A Country Dress” on their last album, it’s one of those long form pieces that is so ambitious both musically and lyrically at the same time to be almost overwhelming. However, the ability of Slim and Munly to pull it off is a huge credit to the ability of SCAC to make incredibly engaging and energetic music that doesn’t sacrifice an ounce of its ability to surprise, confound or provoke thought. And in such dark and sinful times, I can’t think of much that is more genuinely inspiring.

  • Darren Toth

    I have been a huge fan of the Auto Club for years, and I can tell you what separates Slim from other bands is their energy. Many other American Gothic/alt-country bands reach that dark, minor chord sound at the expense of power and excitement. Slim Cessna’s Auto Club comes alive like a revival tent full of desperate sinners, while still creating a melancholy, pensive theme behind everything.

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