Album Review: These United States – What Lasts

What do near-death experiences, a stolen laptop, and the Keystone State have in common? The answer, friends, is the latest These United States album, heretofore known as What Lasts. The fourth TUS record (recorded in Pennsylvania, after singer Jesse Elliott’s near-drowning, the poor boy also having had his laptop stolen) is, as I’ve come to expect and look forward to from this band, a triumph. Running through the record for the first time, I awaited the start of each song with baited breath weighted down with heavy anticipation, because as you all know, TUS is most assuredly one of LET’s most pet of pet bands. And once more, they’ve proven their worth as one of the most relevant, most important bands of our time.

Turning another page in the goodness gracious great story that is the tall, tall These United States tale, Jesse Elliott and the fantastic four (aka Robby, Justin, Colin, and Tom) that have become permanent fellows of TUS exhibit nothing short of master class on What Lasts. The record itself feels more intimate, more personal than has any TUS record before it. At times it’s even rather stone cold sobering, the more winsome musical follies of, say, Crimes, a distant memory down a dusty road in the rearview mirror. What lies ahead is the wide open, big sky country sound of maturation, the sound of melancholy, and the sound of serious contemplative introspection.

But lest you think These United States has left the good jangle behind them, fret not. Songs like the splendid “The Great River” and “Water & Wheat” proudly fly that old faithful TUS jingle pop folk banner. It must be said that the bulk of What Lasts is indeed on the more serious side of the coin, though, which while initially disquieting becomes more and more appealing as the record goes on. “Life&Death She&I” is cause for both sadness and joy, regarding the subject matter and 70s-esque feel to the beat with that foxy steel, respectively. Title track “What Lasts” is music to mope to, with the haunting, shimmery steel and Elliott’s voice taking on particularly plaintive emotional tones. They often seem to tread water that greats like The Band might approve of, and that I most certainly do.

Sure, it’s the most serious These United States record to date. It made me furrow my brow just a touch. But What Lasts is a tremendously fantastic record. And hell, I’m still waiting for Jesse to put a foot wrong when it comes to his lyrics. He once more shows the kids how to write a record full of amazing songs. They’ve come such a very long way from the gate to the garden of Eden. And yet, perhaps they’ve just come full circle. When it comes to These United States, only the old devil moon really knows. And that’s the way it ought to be.

mp3: The Great River (These United States from What Lasts)


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