The sounds making up Celebration, Florida couldn’t be further from the Disney state. Instead its titling finds itself almost a mockery of these “place[s] and corporations trying to create strange realities for people to live in”, the band recently noted. And too with this statement do they expand the concept of folk, how it is defined and how it is to progress. With this fourth studio album, and the first minus brother Simone from the line-up, it takes pickings and references from an amalgamation of musical genres; employing their usual accordion, fiddle and washboard hoedown ingredients and mixing up the concoction with an array of hiphop beats, synth drums and samples.
Known for combining the gritty sounds of the New York subways where they first took to the stage, learning their respective instruments, performing, later recording, and subsequently signing to Conor Oberst’s label Team Love this latest effort, recorded in the theatre and gymnasium of a Beacon, NY school, almost goes as far as to reinvent and set the bar higher for the traditional and progressive folk hybrid they’ve been honing since beginning. There is a consistent edge to their compositions, and Celebration, Florida is no different: comprised of dark stories and discordant sounds meeting together to add an urban grit to a pastoral country music pallet.
On opening track “Fire at the Pageant” disjointed sounds collide in a chaos of audio appeal: childrens’ laughter, accordion, clattering hand claps and a general cacaphony of sounds combine with the Felice’s jangling, dusty barroom piano tinkling and woozy accordion trademarks; while Ian Felice’s raw vocals are perfectly complemented by the raucous chanting of childrens’ choruses.
Current single ‘Ponzi’ similarly shocks, and is perhaps the greatest example of how far the brothers and their friends have come, and while entirely different in style it harbours the smart, sinister storytelling of head honcho Ian: “Now your mother’s in tears/Pacing through the kitchen hears/Your name on the Fox Five/And a fraud investigation”. Its lyrical and musical intensity soon overcome any hard feelings for leaving those banjos and accordions at home, swapping them for disco synth beats and discombobulated audio loopings.
‘Cus’s Catskill Gym’ has a distinct Neil Young & Crazy Horse grungy guitar riff about it, ‘Container Ship’ could easily be some eerie and yet elegiac organ opening to a ’90s melodrama: think Lynch’s Twin Peaks, while a brass section screams its way into bassist Christmas’ vocal contribution on ‘Honda Civic’. Closer ‘River Jordan’ bookends an album of slow burning punches: these songs sound immediate, and yet don’t take immediately, perhaps for the disparratity from their creators’ earlier work.
“Organised mess” and “chaotic diversion” are initial thoughts springing to mind after a first listen but give Celebration, Florida a consistent dose of straight-through plays and you have probably their best album to date. No doubt it’s going to upset those who loved the more honky tonk of their works but this new direction still nods to their old ways and core talents. Celebration, Florida is both broad, unplaceable and still somehow retentive of their beginnings.
Review by Melanie McGovern
29 GER MUNICH Freiheiz
30 GER FRANKFURT Batschkapp
01 GER COLOGNE Gloria
02 GER HAMBURG Ubel & Gefahrlich
03 GER BERLIN Postbanhof
06 UK LONDON Koko
07 UK MANCHESTER Academy 2
09 UK GLASGOW ABC
10 UK BELFAST Spring & Airbrake
11 IRE DUBLIN Academy
12 UK BIRMINGHAM Institute
14 BE BRUSSELS AB Box
15 NL UTRECHT Tivoli
16 NL GRONIGEN Oosterpoort
18 NL NIJMEGEN Doornroosje
Tickets on sale from 9am on Friday May 13th, available HERE.