Filed under: Positive Jam Reviews | Tags: album reviews, Bob Dylan, Conor Oberst, Killingsworth, Mark Twain, positive jam, Team Love Records, the felice brothers, The Minus 5, Yonder is the Clock
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More than most bands out and about today, The Felice Brothers take part in an American tradition as old as Mark Twain, from whom they stole the title Yonder Is the Clock. With lead vocalist Ian Felice’s raspy voice, comparisons to Bob Dylan are inevitable. Rather than hurt them, though, using themes that may seem ancient to us today only enhances the music and sets the album apart.
Free-flowing rhymes like, “She’s the fairest of them all / She loves her adderall,” in “Run Chicken Run” provide a stark immediacy reminiscent of Dylan’s most acclaimed work. The lyrics, like those on The Minus 5‘s recent release Killingsworth and like those of “Times They Are a-Changin’,” remind listeners of hardships and injustices. Whether fraught with political imagery or just a mad adderall addict, the two songs operate from a viewpoint of someone watching and commenting.
The Felice Brothers drench the record with imagery of past or impending doom — from a first-person narrative of dying in New York’s noted hub on “Penn Station,” to the effects of “Memphis Flu” on all the “pretty women, men dying” in 1929. The album would be a gloomy ordeal if the vocals weren’t so comfortably sung and the instrumentals so vibrant. Would anyone read Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn if it ran pedantic with message? The raucous vocals on “Memphis Flu” equate nicely to Finn‘s Duke of Bilgewater — impersonator of the Duke of Bridgewater. It’s called satire — beautifully at work on both Yonder Is the Clock and in Huckleberry Finn.
However, on the elegantly slow closer, “Rise and Shine,” Ian Felice’s voice is laid-back, with the piano line accompanying it just as sad as his lyrics. Retaining the first-person POV, as with most of the album, Felice salutes a friend dying in a fever, sending his “old pal” off with a tender finale and one last chord on piano. Meanwhile, Blonde on Blonde’s “Visions of Johanna” comes to mind. Why did Dylan or Felice write their respective songs? They both vocalize regret over something, be it a dead friend, or a lost love. Both situations hurt, and putting them into song lets that show.
With Yonder Is the Clock, the Felice Brothers release their best album thus far. They join the great American tradition of complaining — mostly about loss, death and mortality and how it affects them. By the end, though, they’re okay with it, ending the album with a peaceful farewell.
Twain exposed injustice until the day he died. (The line “[A]nother of you will die to-night; the third has but five minutes to live — and yonder is the clock!” is taken from his final, unfinished criticism of organized religion, The Mysterious Stranger.) Bob Dylan still has yet to stop, and The Felice Brothers got an exceptional album out of discussing their problems.
On Yonder Is the Clock The Felice Brothers grasp at more than just your typical folk/country shenanigans. It’s a warning, a lament, and a celebration of our individual and collective mortality — something so universal it’s easy to forget. Maybe that’s why Conor Oberst decided to sign them to Team Love Records. The album is an old-fashioned tour de force, and makes them a more than worthwhile act to catch at Positive Jam.
— Eric Vilas-Boas