Archived Review: Goodnight, States - Country/Static / by David Bernabo

Good Night, States’ second full-length album, Country/Static, starts off with studio talk about drum sizes and, possibly, an inside joke about burlap . In fact, it takes 20 seconds until the song kicks in. The transparency conveyed through the inclusion of studio sounds lets the listener in on the recording process and usually signifies the band’s enjoyment in the creation of the work. One hopes that GN,S enjoys the process since writing and recording can be arduous when membership is split among multiple cities. From the liner notes, this album was written throughout 2010, “one weekend at a time, in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.” Recording commenced in 2011 in New York, Pittsburgh, and New Jersey. 

So, how does a two-year process feel? The record bursts out of the gate with the strongest song, “Whithersoever”, a track that immediately recalls the experimentation present on Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Modulating synthesizer sits atop a tom/shaker-based drum rhythm. Strummed acoustic and a polite piano melody enters. It is a nice clean mix. Instruments enter and drop. No sub-melody overshadows another. Cymbal overdubs help blend the crescendo into a B section that transitions into the main hook over new chords. Overall, the main vocal melody is charming, and the backup harmonies make the song.  At roughly 2+ minutes of actual song, this is a perfect structure.

“Ceilings” keeps the beat going: distorted bass, handclaps, intimate vocals. GN,S certainly have their own sound, but it is hard not to compare certain songs with certain artists, especially since chamber pop is currently the predominant form of indie rock. So, that said, a little Arcade Fire shows it’s head here with a great triumphant chorus. Structurally, this song fights tradition with a half-sized first chorus, and some synth drone passages. Again, Megan Lindsey’s backup vocals are terrific.

“In My New Language” plays the context game. Without organ, this is a GN,S song (with rather nice lyrics). With organ, this is a GN,S song with a Tom Petty chorus. Apparently a live favorite from the band’s recent onslaught of Pittsburgh house shows last month, “Fog In The Valley” contains some slow-jam worthy beats and a slightly southern chorus. More interestingly is the reversed piano and synthesizer coda that recalls a little of Laurie Spiegel’s early work at Bell Labs. The push this album gives to sonic experimentation is welcomed. There is definitely a little more room to inject that experimentation into the songwriting, too.

Looking back at the band’s first two efforts, Short Films on Self-Control and the In the Impossible Tension EP, Country/Static is a great advancement. Sonically, the album is well-produced, all sounds are present and have purpose. From a writing standpoint, each song can stand on its own. Some nice twists pop up like the seven-chord verses on “Inside” and a winding chorus that takes 12 bars to loop on “Float Out Every Man”. The synths are better integrated and feel like a better choice than guitar leads. However, at 55 minutes, the perfection can feel a little stiff on the later songs. 

“Tired of Making Sense” starts almost exactly like the previous rocker “Headed My Direction” with both songs enriching some rock chords with flair. Both solid songs, but the later feels redundant. 

Lyrically, the album is very strong. Check these out:

“Make some Cajun friends in the country’s mouth.” (In My New Language)
“We don’t explain events or practice any palliative recall…When all life‘s reconnaissance is in finding where the boundaries should fall.” (Everybody Is Sound)

But sometimes the delivery feels like it never progresses above that cracked softness. The immediacy is there, but little touches like the falsetto on “Fog In the Valley” help break things up and give the words more weight. 

Country/Static is a suitable name for this collection of songs. Good Night, States does a nice job of humanizing the synthesizer and taming a few noise elements to underpin clean folk and rock songs. The band gels well. Dan Harding’s drumming is inventive and respectful of the songs. With Trevor Baker’s basslines, the band is in the pocket. Steve Gretz is a strong songwriter, and the sonic detail and background harmonies from Lindsey and Baker add considerable weight to the album. The album’s risks feel a little calculated, but that is hardly a complaint. This is a record of great care and love. 

Good Night, States releases their album on 04.05.12 with a big event at New Hazlett Theater. VIP Tickets are available for a 6:30 gathering and regular admission lets you in at 7:30. Check out tickets here: http://www.showclix.com/event/GoodNightStatesAlbumRelease