Who are the Excons? If you live in the North Main area of Greenville, they are our friendly local neighborhood band. This is their second LP and it is a great disc. They went to Echo Mountain Studio in Asheville and basically cut the tracks live. Echo Mountain is famous for recording The Avett Brothers, among other great acts, and I really must say the sound quality of this record, Sea Shanties, is fantastic.
The LP was pressed at Kindercore in Athens and the sleeves done locally. Its a quality package, looks great, artwork is wonderful, and it’s all top notch. I applaud them for their attention to detail.
The band’s sound is not easy to pigeonhole, and that’s a great thing. The first LP reminded me a bit of Athens, GA’s Love Tractor, a kind of odd yet preppy rock. Sea Shanties ups their game considerably, with stronger vocals, keyboards, bass, drumming and songwriting. It’s a loose, fun, inventive white boy groove, and it’s cool.
Lyrically, I would loosely define the themes on Sea Shanties as involving suburban ennui, or ennui in general. A quick listen gives forth the topics of and themes concerning: power, protection, entitlement, destitution, persecution, and alienation. Let’s take a quick listen:
‘Romans Of The Modern Age’ starts with a killer delayed bass groove and Brett Heisel’s funky Rhodes piano. Everybody sings at times. The song runs through a loose funky groove, it’s a great opener. ‘‘I Know How The Rich Live’ has a deeper, keyboard accented groove with Porter Whitmire’s sparse yet effective guitar. The lyrics reference both Gershwin’s ‘Summertime,’ Dylan’s ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ and The Zombies ‘Time Of The Season.’ Clever boys indeed. ‘Clutching Fists’ has a nice acoustic guitar fill, starting off like a 70’s SoCal singer-songwriter tune, but devolving into another neat loose white boy funk.
‘Loss Of Power’ features drummer John Byce and his 70’s era Acetone rhythm machine, not heard by these ears since Wall Of Voodoo was doing ‘Mexican Radio.’ Has a nice guitar trill throughout, as well as a sharp glockenspiel. Byce’s drumming is especially jazzy and intricate on this one. ‘Sailor,’ sung by bassist Taylor Vandiver, is a bit more straightforward pop with a super guitar hook. It’s very catchy but still a bit off-kilter in that groovy Excons mode. ‘Frontline’ opens with Byce’s glockenspiel and the Rhodes electric piano, with a cool descending turnaround into a great keyboard solo. This one gets high marks for using the term “Case Quarter” in the lyric. There is a little messy breakdown at the end, saved by the solid bass figure.
‘Corrected Posture’ is ruled by a rollicking bass line, more in your face and less down tempo, cribbing lyrics from songs titles as varied as Radiohead to John Coltrane. This is one of the strongest tracks with an impressive call and response vocal set. ‘Handstand,’ with a harmonica intro and middle, retains a strong feel of mid -period Dylan. Referencing topics such as the Summer Of Love and Free As A Dove, and ‘It’s Alright Ma, It’s Only A Flesh Wound,’ it’s more straightforward folk-pop than you’d expect from Excons. ‘Lowlights’ is one of their older songs, re-recorded for this disc, again with a loose angular funk.The bass is insistent and the drums scattershot-yet-together. Porter’s voice is strong and in control. This is a signature Excons’ song and a great ending to a great LP.
Excons are inventive and original, they don’t sound exactly like anyone else. This is a big plus in my book. They have gone to the effort and trouble to produce a cool, high quality LP. Not many bands go to the effort. You should definitely check them out.