New Bums | Voices In A Rented Room

by Ingrid Rosales SOURCE Best New Bands

Ben Chasny and Donovan Quinn have done the whole psych-genre thing already.

The main music project for Ben Chasny is Six Organs of Admittance, admittedly a psych folk group, and Donovan Quinn’s band, the Skygreen Leopards, also classifies themselves as a psych-folk project. But when put together, Chasny and Quinn have created a new acoustic duo, channeling elements of folk and lo-fi different from any of their other projects. Together, they are the New Bums.

Voices in a Rented Room, the New Bums’ debut album from Drag City, implies a softness from the title alone. “Black Bough,” the opening track, fuels that assumption further with fragile, dreary twinges from two acoustic guitars. Both men croon simultaneously, more sad than melodic; more reflective than whimsical. An image of two men exercising their musical hobbies on a front porch after a long days’ work comes into mind.

And perhaps that image is as accurate as it can be. In an interview that Quinn gave a few years’ back, he spoke about Chasny being an old drinking buddy, how they had been planning to create a record with quintessentially, a “drinking buddy” vibe. Suddenly the record becomes far more casual, though that’s not to say it’s not without its quiet, sentimental moments a la “Black Bough.”

The song “Your Bullshit” stands out from the silence in particular, sounding like raw, railroad rock with a welcomed non-acoustic wail of a guitar at the end. The next track, “It’s the Way,” is reminiscent of a Kurt Vile-esque psychedelic aesthetic, and “The Killers and Me,” the leading single for this album, keeps the vibe of the record light and catchy. The lyrics from this point of the record are also kept light-hearted and simple.

“Welcome to the Navy,” however, takes a turn for some blues (though the vocals definitely give Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst a run for his money). It’s nice, somber, and sounds like a folksy dirge in all the right ways, but the album often loses itself within the silence, especially in the first few songs, and it gets harder to listen when the songs sound so muted and small.

“Town on the Water” might be the track that really hones all different aspects of this album. It’s sung and written with poignancy, a quiet introspection probably best sung out by a lake. It rings back to the softness that the album’s title suggests, a calm plea from two voices: “Take me out to the town on the water.”

With all that said, both singers and musicians have an equal part in this record, which is an interesting accomplishment. Chasny’s and Quinn’s voices are harmonious, but without literal harmonizing. No voice outshines the other, and no riff overpowers another. If a casual buddy record was the goal for the New Bums, then Chasny and Quinn have certainly succeeded. At the end of the day, Voices in a Rented Room is best heard and imagined through that scope, with two friends finishing each others’ sentences; two friends playing guitar.