The Punch Brothers
"Antifogmatic" is a bit of bygone slang that mandolinist Chris Thile and his bandmates stumbled across, "an old term," explains the Punch Brothers founder, "for a bracing beverage, rum or whiskey, that one would have in the morning before going out to work in rough weather, to stave off any ill effects." It's an apt title for the Punch Brothers' second Nonesuch disc. This ten-song set of collectively written material takes a clear-eyed view of those things less tangible than booze that can make us woozy: the pleasures and pitfalls of romance, the seemingly limitless possibilities and multifarious temptations of life in the big city.
"When we heard that term," says Thile, "it was so easily applied to the bulk of the record. We want our music to be something that people can sink their teeth into, if not help make sense of all the various things happening to them. We want to pat them on the head and slap them in the face and tell them everything will be okay."
The arrangements on Antifogmatic range from intimate to boisterous and back; genre-wise, the band once again ventures where no string band has ever gone before. The spare opening track "You Are" contrasts percussive guitar riffs with lyrical string parts that dance around Thile's sweet upper register as he spins a tale of romantic emancipation; occasionally, the other instruments give way to reveal the throb of the bass. The band also engages in some unexpectedly beautiful harmony singing, smoothing out the compelling melodic twists and turns of "Welcome Home." "Me and Us" and "Woman and the Bell" both have a dream-like quality; the former, in fact, was inspired by those jumbled, thought-filled moments before sleep sets in, and the instrumentation keeps pace with the ever-shifting imagery. In contrast, "Don't Need No" and "Rye Whiskey" are foot-stomping barroom boasts and "Next to the Trash" is the closest the band gets to traditional bluegrass, even as the lyrics tug the piece in a more surreal direction.
Thile has earned the right to impart a bit of his own hard-earned wisdom in the lyrics he's contributed to Antifogmatic, which the quintet cut live at Ocean Way in Los Angeles with producer Jon Brion and engineer Gregg Koller. At the heart of the Punch Brothers' 2008 debut, Punch, Thile's four-movement "The Blind Leaving the Blind" chronicled in cathartic detail the events and faith-shaking emotions surrounding the dissolution of his youthful marriage. The musically rigorous, personally revealing composition—carefully notated but allowing room for improvisational passages—came to vivid life in the hands of the former Nickel Creek singer's old friends and newly recruited bandmates: guitarist Chris Eldridge, banjo player Noam Pikelny, violinst Gabe Witcher and bassist Greg Garrison, each of whom were already envelope-pushing figures in the forefront of modern bluegrass, folk and country. (After the departure of Garrison, Paul Kowert, a member of mandolinist Mike Marshall's Big Trio, stepped in.) "The Blind Leading the Blind" was bracketed by four collaboratively conceived instrumental pieces from this freshly minted group, a foretaste of what was to come two years later on Antifogmatic. Upon the release of Punch, the Washington Post described this then-new band as "some of the best string-band pickers of the new generation, and Thile has given them rich, challenging music to wrestle with."
Pisgah Brewing Co.
150 Eastside Dr
Black Mountain, NC 28711
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