The Civil Wars (Album Review) – The Civil Wars

The Civil WarsIt’s a civil war on the new self-titled The Civil Wars album. If only all civil wars were similar.

The folk duo, which announced they were going on hiatus for “internal discord and irreconcilable differences of ambition” back in October, barely managed to finish their sophomore album which might be their last. This album was brewed in the midst of their turmoil. Can such tension translate into excellent music, the likes of which is present in their first album Barton Hollow, in a band that relies heavily on harmonies to stand out?

The truth is that The Civil Wars is even better than Barton Hollow.

From the cover of billowing smoke to Joy Williams spewing “I wish I’d never ever seen your face” on the album’s opening song “The One That Got Away,” a song that departs from their relatively acoustic style, you know you’re in for one musical ride. On Same Old Same Old, the duo examines a struggling relationship whose components don’t want to let go. “Do I love you? I still do. And I’m going to till I’m gone. But if you think that I can stay in this same old same old, well, I don’t,” they sing together on one of the album’s highlight songs.

My favorite song on the album, Dust to Dust, about the loneliness that we all experience doesn’t have the dramatic music you’d expect such a topic to require. It is subdued, relying more on what these two vocalists can do together to convey the story they want to tell. The harmonies the duo create on this track may sound secondary but it’s beyond essential for the mood it creates for the song.  “It’s not your eyes, it’s not what you say. It’s not your laughter that gave you away. You’re just lonely, you’ve been lonely too long. All your acting, your thin disguise, all your perfectly delivered lines. They don’t fool me, you’ve been lonely too long. Let me in the walls you’ve built around. We can light a match and burn them down. Let me hold your hands and dance round and round the flames in front of us, dust to dust.”

Eavesdrop, the album’s possibly most commercial song, is about dealing with pain, even if through a simple hug. “I can’t pull you closer than this. It’s just you and the moon on my skin. Don’t say that it’s over… let’s let the stars watch, let them stare. Let the winds eavesdrop, I don’t care. For all that we’ve got, don’t let go. Just hold me.”

The album has two covers. One of Etta James’ Tell Mama and the other of Smashing Pumpkins’ Disarm. The Civil Wars completely unravels both songs and create their own version out of them. They make the lyrics and the story more prominent in both by toning down the music and making the vocals stand out more. D’Arline is a song that sounds gritty simply because it was recorded on an iPhone and included on the album as is. You can hear the background noise of a suburb on it as The Civil Wars flawlessly deliver the song.

Sacred Heart, a French song they wrote in Paris, is as surprising as it is interesting. With near-impeccable enunciation, the duo tell the story of a lover waiting for her significant other who may not show up while she remembers all the promises in the name of love on her way to the Sacred Heart. “Tu prends peut-être du retard. Tu as peut-être raté ton train. Tu ne peux peut-être pas me pardonner. Les ombres grandissent et les foules s’effacent. Je vais t’attendre là, viendras-tu pour moi? Je vais t’attendre là, seulement toi.”

The Civil Wars is intense. It’s also beautiful. This might be the band’s last album, a tragedy if it turns out to be true because this piece of music proves exactly how brilliantly this duo can do music. The band won’t even be performing these songs live. If you’ve ever seen their live performances, you’d know they are even better than they are recorded. Such an album creates a multitude of “if only” scenarios. With it heading to #1 status in the United States in a few days, the duo would have reached higher levels of success and fame with this work if only had they stayed on speaking terms. Add this album to your list of must-have music for 2013. It doesn’t matter if you like folk or alternative-tinged music, there’s something here which will bring forth the civil war in you.

Grade: A

Must download: The One That Got Away, Same Old Same Old, Dust to Dust. 

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The Civil Wars

I recently discovered this American folk duo called “The Civil Wars” and let me tell you – they are fantastic.
I downloaded their album soon after I heard them on The Hunger Games‘ movie song: Safe & Sound and it’s definitely one of the best albums released in 2011, slightly behind Adele’s 21. Yes, it’s that great.

Their songs are soothing, breathy, calming. Their songs are simply great.

I highly recommend you download their debut album, entitled Barton Hollow. You can find it on iTunes here. Or if you’re more “resourceful,” you know what to do.

I’m actually saddened that such great music cannot find its way to radio and be exposed more. It seems you really have to dig deep to find these great artists that are so overshadowed by radio-played uselessness.

My favorites off their debut album? Well, apart from every single song on the album, I think you’d enjoy these a lot. They’re simply great. My Father’s Father is a gut-wrenching homage to “home.”

20 Years:

My Father’s Father:

Poison & Wine:

 

 

 

Top 13 Songs of 2011

Since this is the last day of 2011, I figured I’d save all my “Top of 2011” posts to it. First post to go public – songs:

Note: the top 5 songs can easily be rearranged as you see fit. I have personally classed them as such based on how often I listened to them according to their iTunes play count.

13 – We Are Young – Fun.

This indie band released this song back in September but never got into it until very recently. It’s quirky, exciting and, well, fun. “Tonight, we are young. So let’s set the world on fire, we can burn brighter than the sun.”

12 – You and I  – Lady Gaga

One of the few Lady Gaga songs I can stand and my favorite of hers by far. It could be that there’s nothing “Gaga” about it. It could be that it might as well be played on country radio but You and I is definitely the best song on her otherwise disappointing new album: Born This Way. (My review of You and I)

11 – We Owned The Night – Lady Antebellum 

My favorite song off their new album, Own the Night. The lyrics are smooth, fresh and lively. The music is happy, effervescent. The chorus is one line that will get stuck in your head. “Yeah we owned the night!” (My review of We Owned The Night).

10 – Safe & Sound (Feat. The Civil Wars) – Taylor Swift

This newly released song is easily one of my favorites of 2011 as well simply because it is a greatly written somber song, perfectly befitting the mood of the movie it will be part of. It is among Swift’s best works and can be one of the few songs she has written that would please a wider fanbase than the teenagers she normally targets. “Just close your eyes, the sun is going down. You’ll be alright, no one can hurt you now. Come morning light you and I’ll be safe and sound.” (My review of Safe & Sound).

9 – Eighteen Inches – Lauren Alaina

My favorite song off Lauren Alaina’s great debut album, Wildflower. It is a sweet song about young lovers who elope to start a new life. “When you’re young and in love you might do some things that don’t seem all that smart. Cause there ain’t no greater distance than the eighteen inches from your head to your heart.”

8 – 20 Years – The Civil Wars 

Absolutely one of the most stunning songs I recently heard. There’s no clear chorus, there’s no clear bridge – it’s nowhere near a typical song you’d hear anywhere. And it’s simply breathtaking. “In the meantime I’ll be waiting for twenty years and twenty more. I’ll be praying for redemption and your note underneath my door and your note underneath my door…”

7 – Skinny Love – Birdy

Released early in 2011, this is a Bon Iver cover. Well, forgive me Bon Iver but your song about heartbreak is conveyed in a way more heartbreaking way by this fifteen year old singer. “Come on skinny love, just last the year. Pour a little salt, you were never here…”

6 – Pumped Up Kicks – Foster The People

This alternative hit came out of nowhere and took everyone by surprise. It is a very dark song – even darker than many people think it is. And yet, it comes off as a very smooth listen. “All the other kids with the pumped up kicks,You better run, better run, outrun my gun.All the other kids with the pumped up kicks,You better run, better run, faster than my bullet.”

5 – Rolling In The Deep – Adele

Let the Adele domination of whatever remains of this list begin. Her first single of her smash of an album (or whatever you call selling over 15 million copies worldwide of an album in one year nowadays) is also one of the year’s biggest hits everywhere. “There’s a fire starting in my heart reaching a fever pitch and it’s bringing me out the dark.”

4 – Someone Like You – Adele 

Because no other breakup song can be this good. Someone Like You is chilling. Someone Like You is captivating. Someone Like You is a song almost every other artist out there wishes they had written. “Nothing compares, no worries or cares. Regrets and mistakes, they’re memories made. Who would have known how bittersweet this would taste?” (My review of Someone Like You).

3 – If I Die Young – The Band Perry

Although released to country radio back in 2010, I’ve decided to include this song in this list because 1. I didn’t have a blog in 2010 and 2. It was released to other radio formats in the US in 2011. There’s just so much I can say about this song and I would still be able to say more. You only need to look at how many people were affected by this song to know exactly the magnitude of its reach. It may not have become the smash hit that Someone Like You or Rolling In The Deep became but it is a song equally worthy, if not more. What song can get a sixty year old woman to stand in a concert in the scorching sun and hold a banner saying: “She died young.” You can’t listen to If I Die Young without being contemplative. “If I die young, bury me in satin. Lay me down on a bed of roses, sink me in the river at dawn, send me away with the words of a love song.”  (My review of If I Die Young).

2 – Set Fire To The Rain – Adele

My favorite song off Adele’s 21. This song is about her breakup – as is all her album, obviously – but this song treats that breakup in a very different light than the other songs. It’s a confusing song in the sense that the beat is there so you’d expect the song to be happy and yet the lyrics are devastating. “My hands, they were strong. But my knees were far too weak to stand in your arms without falling to your feet. But there’s a side to you that I never knew. All the things you’d say, they were never true. All the games you’d play, you would always win.”

1 – Remind Me (feat. Carrie Underwood) – Brad Paisley

The bonafide country hit of the year. Remind Me, the fourth single off Brad Paisley’s new album, is a song about a couple wanting to rekindle their dying romance and it resonates with almost all couples who have been together up to a point where they’ve become so used to each other they take their significant other for granted. The song beholds a stunning vocal performance by Carrie Underwood who’s set to release her fourth album sometime in 2012. “Do you remember how it used to be, we’d turn out the lights and we didn’t just sleep? Remind me, baby remind me.” (My review of Remind Me).

Safe & Sound (From “The Hunger Games” Soundtrack) [feat. The Civil Wars] (Single Review) – Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift’s Christmas present for her fans arrived in the form of a song titled “Safe & Sound,” which is serving as the lead single for one of 2012’s most anticipated movies: The Hunger Games.

The song opens with a guitar playing to which Swift sings eerie breathiness: “I remember tears streaming down your face when I said, I’ll never let you go, when all those shadows almost killed your light. I remember you said don’t leave me here alone. But all that’s dead and gone and passed tonight.”

The moment Swift utters the first note, you know this isn’t like any song she has written before and it’s a very welcome departure from her previous works to a more mature, mellow musical sound.

“Just close your eyes, the sun is going down. You’ll be alright, no one can hurt you now. Come morning light, you and I will be safe and sound” Swift sings on the chorus, with the hums of The Civil Wars, who are featured with her on the song, in the background only serving to increase the overall tense atmosphere of the song and make it more fitting of the movie it will be part of.

For those who don’t know, The Hunger Games is based on a book of the same title and is set in a post apocalyptic world where there is very little hope, very little potential for a better life and where the young people of that world have to kill each other for the entertainment of their ruthless governing Capitol as part of the Hunger Games. Once you have that in your mind, it’s very easy to see how this song fits perfectly that atmosphere. You can easily imagine the characters of the book sitting around a campfire and singing this to maybe bring nonexistent strength to their spirit.

Don’t you dare look out your window, darling everything’s on fire. The war outside our door keeps raging on. Hold onto this lullaby even when the music’s gone,” Swift sings on the second verse with slightly more strength to echo a buildup in the song teller’s morale. The vocals are layered and icy while trying to echo the building fire inside. It simply works.

The Civil Wars are more pronounced on the second verse onwards as their provide beautiful harmonies to Taylor’s singing, providing an eerie echo that resonates with the overall ethereal atmosphere painted in the song, adding to the folky sound the song has.

Safe & Sound is dark. Safe & Sound is anything but safe and sound for a singer who has become more known for her tween hits than her better songs that never see the light of day on radio. Safe & Sound is here to show that Taylor Swift is truly one of this generation’s best songwriters – one who is able to craft an idea into a song that can fascinate you. She uses beautiful imagery and manages to create musical hooks out of the gloomiest of songs. Safe & Sound is no exception to that rule. Safe & Sound is the most grown-up Taylor Swift has ever been on song. This is one of the few songs she has where she doesn’t talk about boys, love, fairytales and broken romances. This is a song about life, about hardships – and she pulls it off brilliantly.

8/10