Rating: 8 out of 10
Approximately 20 years ago, a friend popped into the CD player, Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks. Within a few seconds of hearing the opening notes of “Tangled Up in Blue,” I knew that I’d be in for a treat and listened to the whole record start to finish while eagerly awaiting each song. It was around the same time, that I had bought Lou Reed’s New York record, in which the liner notes stated the album, was “meant to be listened to in one 58 minute (14 songs) sitting as though it were a book or a movie.”
Ever since that day, I’ve been an album guy as opposed to a singles guy. I knew that bands could easily produce a catchy single, but the more important test, in my opinion, was whether that same band could make a great LP…start-to-finish.
In this day of the iPod, where listeners often rely on the shuffle function to play random tracks from their favorite artists, I wondered to myself, “Are bands still going to take the album seriously?” Although I already knew the answer, that answer was reaffirmed resoundingly after I got a chance to listen to Hymns soon-to-be-released record Travel in Herds.
Travel in Herds starts off with a bang with “NYC Nervous Breakdown.” The looping bass line chugs along with Rickenbacker-like country picking done by the Kinks.
“I Can’t Be What U Want,” takes the band into previously uncharted territory with fantastic horns accompanied by banjo that takes the listener on roads traveled by The Band and perhaps Dr. John.
I think it’s refreshing that while many indie bands have gone 80’s retro, almost using Moog synthesizers as a crutch, Hymns have enough guts to go against the grain and revisit more organic sounds...using horns, piano, banjo, and other old-timey instrumentation.
“St. Sebastian” rocks like Exile-era Stones while tackling Travel in Herds reoccurring theme of wide-eyed big city love and ambivalence. Hymns are from Brooklyn by way of North Carolina and, while they’ve clearly enjoyed their travels and time spent in big cities, you never get the sense that this band has forgotten their roots.
“Time Has Told Me” sounds like another great North Carolina band, Whiskeytown, meeting the Stones halfway.
The only minor slip-up on this record might be the fade-out ending to “LA, or Babette Sange.” I hate fade outs….a sloppy, ramshackle finish would have sounded more authentic.
“On the Run” seduces the listener with Hammond organ coloring, builds up momentum, and eventually launches to into an epic soulful blue-eyed soul song reminiscent of Van Morrison of the early 70’s. The perfect ending to a fantastic record.
The pace and sequencing of this album is nearly perfect, which is difficult when you make a record that touches so many bases. It’s not easy for a band to be this ambitious and still pull it off. Wilco did it with Being There and the Hymns more than succeed with Travel in Herds. Hymns cover expansive ground while keeping the listener comfortable in the familiar realms of Americana.
Sure, you hear some subtle and not-so-subtle nods to The Band, late 60’s Stones, Tom Petty (Blame it On the Mountains), and perhaps Gram Parsons (Off My Mind)…but Travel in Herds is a modern music-lovers album and is a record that any of those artists would have been proud to have made.
Despite this record being full of great singles, this record should be listened to start-to-finish in one sitting….you’ll be happy you did.
Travel in Herds has already solidified a place on my “Best Records of 2008.”
*Travel in Herds will be released on March 11th on Blackland Records.
Watch Hymns perform an acoustic version of "NYC Nervous Breakdown" live at the South By Southwest Festival.
Hymns chat with Spin . com's William Goodman after a quick acoustic set at the SPIN and MySpace San Jacinto Saloon, SXSW 2008.
Watch the video for "Train Song" from Travel in Herds