The Sometime Boys Strike Again
The Sometime Boys started out as an infrequent acoustic side project from guitarist Kurt Leege and singer Sarah Mucho of art-rockers System Noise. When their main band went on hiatus, the Sometime Boys became their main focus: a year or so later, they’re suddenly one of New York’s best bands. Their debut album, Any Day Now was one of 2011’s best, and their gentle but intense and unselfconsciously beautiful new one Ice and Blood is a strong contender for best of 2012. It’s a mix of brisk bluegrass vamps, soulful acoustic funk, spiky blues, gospel, straight-up rock and a couple of classic covers that they completely reinvent. This time out the core of Leege and Mucho is abetted by Pete O’Connell on bass, Rebecca Weiner Tompkins on violin, Jay Cowitt on drums and Erik James on piano, accordion and keyboards. While the instrumentation tends to be rustic and the melodies steeped in traditional Americana, their sound is unique and eclectic to the extreme, with elements of 70s jamrock and funk intermingled with swing jazz, ragtime and oldtime country music.
The album begins with Winter Solstice and ends with its summery counterpart. The first holds out hope on the year’s darkest day, Mucho musing about “what fun we missed when leaves were left unturned” against jaunty ragtime piano and insistent violin. The second is a crescendoing, optimistic showcase for Mucho at her most soaring and spine-tingling, packed with neat polyrhythms, a slinky bass groove and a warmly Jerry Garcia-esque guitar solo that slowly and hypnotically winds out. They take Eden, an older song by Noxes Pond, the predecessor band to System Noise and jazz it up with dreamy Rhodes piano, Mucho at her most nuanced. “”I have no need for miracles, just ice and blood and all that’s real, I’ll heal myself,” she asserts with a quiet intensity. She sings of an icy clarity, but her voice is the furthest thing from icy: a star in the cabaret world, where she’s won multiple MAC awards (the cabaret equivalent of a Grammy), she’s one of New York’s most gripping vocalists in any style of music. She blends a raw torchiness with a commanding jazz sophistication on a syncopated piano swing version of Brother Can You Spare a Dime, bringing the anthem alive for a new generation of the down-and-out. By contrast, she transforms the Beatles’ Mother Nature’s Son into a wary gospel number over Cowitt’s perfect Ringo evocation.
Unsurprisingly, the best songs here are originals. The absolutely gorgeous organ-driven anthem Drop by Drop might be the single best song of the year so far: it’s a sad, elegaic country waltz that builds to an angst-fueled grandeur. Slowly, its forlorn narrator comes to grips with the fact that the person “who’s supposed to love me most” is turning into a ghost before her eyes, underscored by Leege’s tersely biting, bittersweet acoustic guitar. The Good People of Brooklyn, with its ragtime piano and stark violin, pensively yet ecstatically pays tribute to Mucho’s adopted “city of trees,” an unselfconsciously heartwarming message of hope for the 99% struggling through “another day, another turning of the screw.” Igloo, a broodingly atmospheric mix of fingerpicked guitar and accordion, builds a haunting ambience that could be the apocalypse, or just a portrait of clinical depression, where someone can “Curl under this blanket/It’s peaceful in our early graves.” There are also a couple of duets, one a folk-pop tune, the other an acoustic goth rock song, and also a bouncily shuffling pop song that sounds like Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac. The whole album is streaming at Soundcloud; the Sometime Boys play the album release show for this one on May 31 at 9 PM at the Parkside.