Frontier Psychiatrist

Frontier Revival, vol. 4: Punch Brothers’ Drunk Love

Posted on: June 17, 2010

On their sophomore album, the Punch Brothers prove once again that instrumentation does not define genre. Antifogmatic features all of our countrified friends: fiddle, guitar, banjo, upright bass, and mandolin. But regardless of what your iTunes calls the album (ours says Alternative), this record avoids being pigeonholed.  The sophisticated compositions and arrangements of Chris Thile and company stomp, swing, and sway from modern classical to gypsy jazz, with appropriate stops at rock n’ roll and yes, bluegrass and country.

Punch Brothers, Rye Whiskey

We’ll save you a Google search and reveal that antifogmatic is an old-timey term for an alcoholic beverage. Much of the lyrical content features booze and relationships, and like any good bender or romantic affair, the thematic arc makes the record worthwhile as a whole, from passionate conception to inevitable hangover and heartbreak. This album defies our modern mp3 shuffle mentality, where any possible narrative threads are a side effect. For instance, the boot stomping debauchery of “Rye Whiskey” flows into the sweetly sentimental “Alex”, just as a few rounds of drinks might instigate violence and then a few more might knock you back into tenderness.

The genre bending aspects of this endeavor shine during “Don’t Need No.” Here we get a brilliant display of the Punch Brothers’ considerable chops. The band plays jazz fusion runs under a toe tapping two beat while Thile sings in the classic “high and lonesome” style mixed with a growl. The song is a contrast to the meditative earlier tracks that evoke classical music.

Punch Brothers, Don’t Need No

The tunes on Antifogmatic are through composed, meaning they don’t necessarily involve the standard AABA format on which most pop music is based. This is somewhat typical of Thile’s work post-Nickel Creek, especially the Punch Brothers’ 2008 debut, Punch, and its 40-minute centerpiece, “The Blind Leaving the Blind.” On Antifogmatic, the best example of this type of writing is “Welcome Home” which clocks in at 6:39, unfriendly for commercial radio, but appropriate for developing complex musical ideas. Here, the tempo varies, the dynamics move from soft to loud and instruments come and go. The open sonic spaces contrast with the rollicking group play and emphasize the moments when the band really rocks out.

Punch Brothers, Welcome Home

If you buy this record, give it a few listens front to back before your software based music player renders it into little pieces. Antifogmatic is a pristinely recorded, well conceived work that can take you from here to there like a classic cocktail, minus the hangover.

Joe Trapasso is a staff writer.

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7 Responses to "Frontier Revival, vol. 4: Punch Brothers’ Drunk Love"

[…] one, not two, but three encores. Chris Thile and friends played tunes from Antifogmatic, which we reviewed last week, as well as a selection from their 2008 opus “The Blind Leaving the Blind” and covers […]

[…] making a documentary film about the band.  “Alex” is perhaps the least quirky song on their new record Antifogmatic, with the doe-eyed melancholy of a McCartney Beatles tune. But it’s been in my head since I […]

[…] two picked up where day two left off, with outstanding sets by staff favorites Punch Brothers and Sharon Jones, as well as performances by Swell Season (most well-known for their performance in […]

[…] Antifogmatic, of course, also being the title of the new album by the Punch Brothers, a favorite of ours.  As for antifogmatics of the potable variety, these generally small but strong drinks were taken […]

[…] Rob Moose, who has toured with Sufjan Stevens, Beth Orton, and Antony and the Johnsons. Fans of Punch Brothers may know Moose as the guy who arranged Bach’s Brandenberg Concerto No. 3 for bluegrass […]

[…] as a producer.  The list of bands assisted by Brion includes FP favorites Of Montreal, Spoon, and Punch Brothers. If that weren’t enough, he acted on co-producer on Kanye West’s Late Registration and […]

[…] The Low Anthem, Surfer Blood, David Bazan, Andrew Bird, Titus Andronicus, Dr. Dog, The Antlers, Punch Brothers, The National, and Dosh are all well represented. Thanks to the au-natural aspects of each […]

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