When your pocket’s filled with dollar bills, your heart forgets to eat.
In the current sea of technically remarkable music, it’s easy to overlook those who keep simplicity in their crosshairs. These are the guys making sure that above all else, over-complication is kept under wraps in order to retain an organic, true-to-life feeling. It’s the dynamic arising from musicians performing together, feeding off of one another in the same room, a phenomenon that leads to a product that supersedes any single musician’s abilities.
It’s that back-to-basics mentality that many musicians are afraid to tackle, trading in any thought of restraint for over-complicated, hard-to-follow music that ends up falling flat due to more of a lack of humility than talent. When pride is kept in check, as Shakey Graves so eloquently demonstrates on their indie-folk gem Roll the Bones, the final product is one that simply can’t be put down.
With Roll the Bones, Shakey Graves illustrates that an album doesn’t need catchy singles or walls of noise to make music stick with the listener. At the same time, boredom fails to strike, as song length and structure variation are always kept in check. Thoughtfully simplistic acoustic arrangements spiced with vocals filled to the brim with character saturate the album end to end. Vocal styles change throughout, ranging from the layered crooning in opening track “Unlucky Skin”, to the deep, thundering blues-influenced “City in a Bottle”.
Only a few instruments make an appearance on Roll the Bones, with hardly a percussive element to be heard. Collective hand claps and gang vocals permeate the album, being lead the way by beautifully simplistic melodies. The sound quality of the individual tracks, however, has a distinct feeling of inconsistency, as if they were all recorded in separate locations at different volumes. Perhaps that was the feeling that they were going for (keeping with the simplistic theme) but I believe that it hurts an otherwise fantastic effort.
On the whole, Roll the Bones is a pleasurable listen from beginning to end. These guys have created something genuinely beautiful in its simplicity, a testament to the fact that music doesn’t need expertly designed song structure and performance to effectively enthrall an audience. Roll the Bones has a distinct sense of emotion, something that cannot be manufactured, bottled and shipped the way that much of what we listen to is today.
*Update – I spoke with Shakey quickly today and he mentioned that the “band” I keep mentioning in the review is actually him (a single person) making the music. My apologies.
Take a listen to my home-brewed instrumental/electronic/indie album
"Where Were We When" and download it for as many coconuts as you can spare.
Coconuts are delicious, though their milk tastes like pond water.