“Four Songs” is a new EP from the waltz-driving folk band Man Alive!, which consists of (you guessed it) four new songs...I am sorry, but that is just simple genius. I listened to some of their back catalogue and checked out the old YouTube to acquaint myself better with this cast of characters and the exuberant sounds coming forth from their instruments.
Sonically, the band is a powerful force. Stomping, pounding, driving accordion lines make for a hell of a ride when listening to these guys. One of them must be practicing witchcraft, because their music truly possesses you into moving and shaking a bit, you just can't help it. The choppiness of the acoustic guitar, whirling accordion parts, Matt Chieffo’s strong and unique vocal backed by a subtle, but steady bass part and balanced by the higher pitch of the fiddle, makes for a really eclectic and distinctive sound that you don’t hear around the city. It’s “alt-folk” but it is certainly not like anything else I am hearing around the clubs that cater to “alt-folk” groups. These guys have a sound that is all their own.
My favorite track of the 4 is probably “Time”. A great plucked banjo, the fiddle high over the top, that damn excellent accordion filling in the back and the bass line keeping it all in time (see what I did there…the name of the song is ‘Time’). It’s the best harmony effort on the work by far and I think the more stripped out emotion kind of works for them to that effect. Not over doing, just letting the words fall where they will. There is a nice back and forth between Chieffo and fiddle player Amber Hoggart which I love to see when there are two vocalists. It’s almost like a conversation between the two, melding together in the chorus. A really nice dynamic and it displays the thought process that went into the arrangement of the track. The song, as a whole, just plain succeeds in delivering that feeling of “I have tried and tried but I just can’t seem to have control over anything”. Well played, Man Alive! Well played indeed.
Over time, it seems that Chieffo’s lyric writing and arranging style is getting a bit more solemn than previously. The songs on this collection have a certain sense of sorrow to them in comparison to their previous songs’ more upbeat and energetic feel (especially shown in the beginning of the track “It’s Over” and the downtrodden “Time”). The playing still makes for a nice and strong groove in the tunes, but it’s just a bit darker, I suppose. That is really the best I can describe it, the previous EP feels lighter to me and given the fact that these guys recorded this in a dark basement somewhere in the bowels of the city (I believe I heard that somewhere and saw pictures? Can someone from Man Alive! confirm?) perhaps that was the intention. If so, that’s a huge win in my book.
Now, it is time for the constructive criticism part of the review. Chieffo’s vocal is extremely pronounced, effective, and confident. The mix with the female harmony distracts a bit from that. Some of the older recordings I dug up had a female part that was sung a bit more in unison with the male counterpart. For me, that just worked a bit better for the songs and felt more natural and cohesive. Something was simply more smooth, solid and plain worked. Another piece that could use work is the overall tone of the fiddle within the recordings. It doesn’t feel as confident and warm as the other pieces and stands out a bit too much. That may be just the recording, but something that took a little away from my listening experience. That being said, dynamics can always be worked on, recordings cleaned up and chemistry established with a young band…regardless, I am really excited to hear more in the future from this young alt-folk outfit. I think 2013 will be really kind the group so be sure to check them out!
Check out Four Songs from Man Alive! here (and buy the damn thing for pete’s sake!): http://manalive.bandcamp.com/Man Alive! is : Matt Chieffo: guitar, vocals, Amber Hoggart: fiddle, vocals, Jordan Allain: bass,
Jeff Shattuck: accordion