Before I get into the specifics of this incredibly strong debut record, I will say this: I Bought a Heart Made of Art in the Deep, Deep South is hands down the best local CD I have heard in many, many years. Innovative and enchanting on so many levels, this debut by Athens' band Hope For Agoldensummer has held near-exclusive dominion over my CD player for over 2 weeks.
Having seen this band perform on several occasions, I was worried that the most endearing aspects of their live show would possibly be lost in the recording process. With shows that bring crowds to a level of silent introspection the likes of which are rarely seen, H-Fags (as the band calls themselves for short) rely heavily upon the spontaneity of performance to commune with their audiences. However, most (if not all) of my initial fears have proven to be completely unfounded. This CD manages to encapsulate the group's near-perfect mix of looseness and tightness, and the crisp production serves to highlight their sound, rather than deter from it.
Hope For Agoldensummer consists of five members who play a variety of instruments, such as guitar, cello, eclectic percussion, xylophone, singing saw, piano, and bottles. However, the defining trait of the band lies in the frighteningly beautiful vocal harmonies, which are executed primarily by vocalists Claire and Page Campbell. As sisters, their voices are similar enough to mesh with each other flawlessly, yet they are different enough to represent two distinct approaches to the material at hand.
I had planned to do a song-by-song analysis of the record. But, after having listened to it near-obsessively for a while now, I decided it would serve the band better by discussing the album as a whole instead. Consisting of twelve tracks, the songs on I Bought a Heart Made of Art in the Deep, Deep South flow into each other with impressive ease; every one is different, yet they all truly sound as though they were all designed specifically to exist together. While there are certainly stand-out tracks (which I'll discuss below), the record as a whole maintains one strong vibe.
First, the bad stuff. Well, there sure isn't much, but I'd say that The Police is the weakest point on the record. Well-placed as a deep album cut, this track pleases me slightly less than the others for no particular reason. Again, it's not that I actually dislike the song, but rather that I merely like it less than the rest of the record.
Now, the good. While the incredible cello work of Will Taylor and the perfectly minimal guitar of Deb Davis are outstanding, the eclectic percussion of drummer Jamie Shepard really shines throughout the record. A drummer who not only knows when to play, but also when NOT to play, Shepard has one of the fullest kit sounds I've ever heard. He favors something crazy like a 30 inch bass drum (which he claims to utilize in order to make up for the lack of a bassist in the band), and rarely does he play with anything other than jazz brushes. Simply outstanding.
As for the songs themselves, today, my favorite track had to be Midwest, a song of (perhaps) lost love and the memories/retrospection that comes as a result. The lyrics are fantastic (as they are on most of the record): "Oh, how I miss him / And the chance to explain / But this Georgia voice / Couldn't cut through that Illinois rain." Does that sound cheesy to you? Well, if it does, then you're an idiot. Just kidding. But seriously, the lyrics of this tune, as well as the others, fit their accompanying music flawlessly.
Other stand-out tracks include Hearts in Jars, Malt Liquor, and Home is the Place. However, the final cut, Laying Down the Gun, takes the cake by far. The lyrics are fantastic in every way, and culminate with a powerful sing-along part at the finale: "Instead of stopping our hearts / we play music / Because we're rock stars / We come together / And we work / And we fall apart / I play music because / I'm in love with / Silence and sound / Just like a machine / I picked up my pen / and wrote this medicine down." And, as before, you simply MUST hear how the lyrics meld with the music in order to truly appreciate them.
In summary: buy this freaking record. If you're smart, you
will love I Bought a Heart Made of Art in the Deep,
Deep South immediately. And if you don't like
it, then you're obviously a moron and shouldn't have gotten
this far in reading this review.