#8 – TWIN FORKS – TWIN FORKS [spotify]

(feat. track – “Plans” from Twin Forks [spotify])

If you follow me on Twitter, odds are you’ve seen me fly the “Death To False Americana” flag repeatedly over the last three to four years. Coming from the perspective of someone who fell deep into the No Depression-shaped hole of the late ‘90s (in retrospect, clearly the least embarrassing of all possible late ’90s scenes), the current crop of Mumfordcore acts have consistently rubbed me in the wrong way. I think the concept of “authenticity” is a mostly a bugaboo, but when you’re dealing with a style of music that’s so strongly rooted in notions of the authentic, at least fake your sincerity well, you know? It’s been a real joy to see this new wave collapse in on itself, to see the Lumineers and Of Monsters And Men and their ilk revealed as the one-hit-wonders I always believed them to be. 

Embracing Twin Forks, then, the Americana project fronted by longtime Dashboard Confessional bandleader/songwriter/haircoiffer Chris Carrabba, comes with no small pang of agita. When I spoke with him in 2013 Carrabba insisted that his intentions behind the decision to shift focus from his ever-more-past-date emo mainstay to this new venture are pure, that they are merely an outgrowth of his natural desires and interests as a songwriter. Still, if the move wasn’t opportunistic, it has been at least quite conveniently timed.

Is Carrabba, in some sense, getting a “scene kid pass” from me? I suppose there’s an element of that, sure; then again, you’re not going to catch me raving about Oh, Honey or Young Rising Sons or American Authors anytime soon, and I spent too many nights at Angels & Kings with all of those folks.

And in fairness, this sort of music is territory Carrabba began to explore back in 2011 on Covered In The Flood – where he recontextualized the work of John Prine, Justine Townes Earle and Guy Clark, among others – and, to some extent, as early as 2007’s The Shade Of Poison Trees (released under the Dashboard imprimatur). If the timing of his pivot towards Americana seems calculated, it at least appears that the music itself has been in his blood all these years, lying dormant.

Indeed, it must be in his blood; I don’t have any other explanation for how else he could have delivered such an exquisitely crafted batch of songs, one that fulfills every promise of the band’s early EPs (the best of which are incorporated here) while expanding the project’s range to include more ruminative fare amongst the mandolin-and-handclap driven rave-ups. I honestly don’t think that it’s a stretch to say Twin Forks is the strongest batch of songs Carrabba has collected on one album since 2002’s The Places You Have Come To Fear The Most; it’s certainly the most consistent. Meanwhile, his voice, always an underrated marvel, has acquired just enough tarnish over time to add a weathered quality to his quieter moments without diminishing his ability to belt it out in the least. As such, Carrabba consistently gets the most out of the songs – I can’t imagine anyone doing these better.

Twin Forks, purely as a collection of music – removed from all the arguments and contexts and cultural detritus that can clog the journey between listening and enjoyment – is as pleasurable a listen as any album of 2014, one that I kept coming back to, and kept finding surprise in. It’s earned its way onto this year’s Top Ten, whether I like it or not.