Saturday, September 25, 2010

Punch Brothers - Antifogmatic

Release Date: June 15, 2010
Label: Nonesuch

On Sunday, June 20, 2010, I was at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.  The third or fourth act of the day was someone I had never heard of, called Punch Brothers.  I heard they were good, but I didn't really know what they were all about.  30 minutes into their set, right after the song "Next To The Trash", I walked down to the merch tent and shelled out $25 for the deluxe edition of Antifogmatic.

Chris Thile (pronounced "THEE lee"), who started this band, cut his teeth in the popular bluegrass band Nickel Creek.  That ended, he released a solo album or two, became renowned for his mandolin playing, and he started Punch Brothers.  The first two Punch Brothers albums were not really band efforts.  The debut, How To Grow A Woman From The Ground, has Chris Thile's name on the front, not Punch Brothers.  The second, Punch, had several shorter songs written by the band, but the meat of it is a 40 minute long four part suite Thile wrote about his divorce.  Antifogmatic is really their first full band effort, and it works.

Here is the track list (deluxe edition):
  1. You Are
  2. Don't Need No
  3. Alex
  4. Rye Whiskey
  5. Me And Us
  6. Missy
  7. The Woman and The Bell
  8. Next To The Trash
  9. Welcome Home
  10. This Is The Song (Good Luck)
All Of This Is True bonus EP:
  1. Friend or No More?
  2. When In Doubt
  3. Two Hearted
  4. Curtigh
Live from the Lower East Side: It's p-Bingo Night! bonus DVD:
  1. On the Bound (originally by Fiona Apple) 
  2. Ride The Wild Turkey (originally by Jerry Douglas)
  3. This Is The Song (Good Luck)
  4. Red Handed
  5. Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, III. Allegro (J.S. Bach)
  6. Manchicken (author unknown)
  7. 99 Years (author unknown)
 First of all, every song I've heard from Punch Brothers is great.  If you have to pigeonhole them in a genre, it would be progressive bluegrass, but their proclivity to perform Radiohead covers should tell you how strictly they adhere to the traditional boundaries of bluegrass music.  This is truly something new; it's not just a flimsy derivative of something somebody else did before.

Antifogmatic is a somewhat delicate album; there is no percussion, and some of the tracks are slow and textured.  Tracks like "You Are" and "Next To The Trash" show how dynamic these guys can be.  Rye Whiskey is probably the closest to being a traditional bluegrass track, and its lyrics seem to be about the beer goggle effect:
Rye whiskey makes the band sound better, makes your baby cuter, makes itself taste sweeter. 
The bonus DVD is also excellent; it consists of a selection of tracks they did at regular appearances in NYC called "p-Bingo night."  This consists of an interesting mix of instrumentals, original songs, and covers.  Check out this playlist on Youtube.

I listen to Punch Brothers for the same reasons I listen to Porcupine Tree.  In some reason, Chris Thile seems to be to bluegrass what Steven Wilson is to rock/metal.  They extract influence from wherever they can, without regard to its acceptance in their chosen genres.  Antifogmatic is my favorite album this year, and I don't expect that to change.