In terms of folk music, if Gillian Welch is the heartland, and her new record label, Acony, is a littoral jumping off point then into the uncharted waters plunge The Whispertown 2000, the first outside band signed and launched from Acony. And far from sinking, they Swim.
Headed up by founder and lead singer Morgan Nagler, The Whispertown 2000 boasts pedigreed associations attracted soon after the band’s inception in 2005. Tours with Bright Eyes and Jenny Lewis testify to the potential of this new band. Their first album, Livin’ in a Dream, borrowed producers Jimmy Tamborello from the Postal Service and Blake Sennett of Rilo Kiley, but remains only available online and at live shows.
The mutual statement made by Gillian Welch’s choice of The Whispertown 2000 as the first band other than her own to represent Acony records and the band’s identification with folk icon Welch set both band and label squarely into the still nebulous genre of indie folk. Clearly drawing inspiration from traditional folk and paying full homage with rowdy songs such as "Old Times," The Whispertown 2000 sparingly adds updated synthesized elements to their rootsy guitar strums. The resulting album, Swim, has all the catchiness and sing-along draw of folk music reimagined for a new generation.
Nagler’s chameleon voice, backed by band mate Vanesa Corbala, sets a slightly different mood for each song so that at one moment you might mistake the vocals for an airy Radiohead ballad, another song recalls the half speak of Tori Amos, one could be the crooning of Cat Power, another evokes a modern remake of a Grease style number. Even the melancholy songs such as Atlantis, with Gillian Welch contributing haunting background vocals, are pervaded by an enthusiasm and optimism that brings one of the best traits of folk music to its marriage with indie rock.
The one questionable element on the record, a small thing trumped by the superior songwriting and musicianship, is the layer of static over the whole record, seemingly meant to conjure up quaint and old timey associations. Each song sounds as if it comes through a crackly vintage radio. Though a creative effect, the layer is just a little too heavy causing one to jiggle whatever cord connects the speakers to the power source, finally realizing that the splutter is inherent to the music. Keep listening though, because soon the buzzing will fade into ambience and you’ll be irresistibly tapping your toes and drawling along to this feel good band.
Swim releases October 21st and with it indie folk gains a definitive new influence in The Whispertown 2000 and Acony Records.