Golden Rough – Provenance

Golden Rough

It’s always interesting when an artist talks about their art, inside their art. The self-conscious musings you occasionally find in songs can be more interesting than the songs themselves. Of course, self-conscious thoughts can turn the song into a stunning inward glance, or a thinly-veiled ego trip. For instance, when Jeff Tweedy says that “you’ll sing some strange verse, from some strange song of mine,” it’s a golden line. But when you get into the “I write the songs that the whole world sings” territory, you’re in trouble. The title track of Golden Rough’s Provenance contains a virtual boon of such insights, and it has quite an effect on the rest of the album.
“People in the Street,” which opens the album, is a fantastic piece of early-Wilco pop twang (it’s no coincidence that I chose Tweedy to quote above). But when the album moves into “Provenance,” the whole game changes. Singer David Orwell says “I’m tired of always seeming darker than I am / in my words and in my songs / I wrote a thousand from a single love gone wrong.” As if that weren’t enough, the chorus kicks in: “See I come from a quiet suburban place / I had no ghosts or fears of any kind to face.” At first, I was struck by the immediate honesty of the lyrics. After all, don’t you think most underground bands could sing those same lyrics? When was the last time you bought the emotion in a Get Up Kids song?
After thinking about the lines for a while, though, I decided I didn’t like them so much. Because for all of their honesty, I don’t really want to listen to some middle-class musician lie to me (hell, isn’t that what I’ve got friends for?). At least most other bands can fake it. I want my artists damaged, damn it. Bleed for me. Bleed for your art. And if you really are just some average white guy, then make shit up. It worked for Dylan, and he’s the greatest songwriter of the last half-century. “Provenance” doesn’t ruin the album, but it does make lines like “99% of everything is killing me” awfully difficult to buy.
So far I’ve spent a lot of time waxing over the lyrics of one song on the album, so let’s go over some of the rest of it. The songs on this album are startlingly similar, both in sound and quality. Lots of acoustic guitars and piano flourishes, with Orwall’s graceful voice swaying over mostly mundane lyrics. The songs are so similar, in fact, that three or four listens in, I still can’t really pick out any highlights. “99%,” though mostly unbelievable, is a pretty good song, and “Captains of Industry” has a fading trumpet coda that captures my heart. The electric piano that helps open “Antarctica” sounds like a majestic change from the normally earthy sounds that permeate nearly every other track. The closer, “Someone Else’s Home,” contains some of the album’s best music, and along with the opening track, is the band’s best stroke.
Golden Rough is an awfully good band. The instrumentation and recording is superb, but given the vast fault in confidence set up by Orwell in just the second song, the art is a bit hard to swallow. Suspension of disbelief works for most bands, and Golden Rough should have left it at that. Besides that though, this is a quality collection of Wilco-inspired pop that should appease fans who are still clinging onto Being There‘s Americana.