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Published: 2010/08/23
by Sam Robertson

These United States
What Lasts

United Interests

Although These United States just released their debut album in 2008, they have taken the music world by storm since with constant touring and three more studio albums. All the hard work is beginning to pay off for These United States, and on their new album What Lasts they show off a tighter group chemistry and more mature songwriting. The batch of songs that makes up their new album What Lasts was inspired by lead singer Jesse Elliott’s brush with death in a near-drowning last year. While lyrically the album is unquestionably darker than anything Elliott has penned before, there is a light at the end of the tunnel in these songs and What Lasts is ultimately an uplifting tale of perseverance and a renewed appreciation for life.

Besides Elliott on vocals and acoustic guitar, These United States feature Justin Craig on electric guitar and keys, Robby Cosenza on drums, multi-instrumentalist J. Tom Hnatow on pedal & lap steel guitars, electric guitar, & keys, and Colin Kellogg on bass. These United States lineup has evolved a bit over the years, but the current lineup is the perfect accompaniment for Elliott’s nervous croon and clever but sometimes a bit too wordy lyrics. The band can seamlessly switch from manic, punk-like rock and roll to country ballads, and like Wilco, manage to incorporate some psychedelic noise into their songs without sacrificing their irresistible catchiness.

J. Tom Hnatow is far from your typical country pedal steel guitar player, and uses his instrument to add a psychedelic touch to these songs. On the title track he brings to mind Jerry Garcia’s haunting pedal steel playing on David Crosby’s masterful solo album If I Could Only Remember My Name, and he and lead guitarist Justin Craig take “Just This” to a stunningly beautiful, chaotic climax. The songs on What Lasts all clock on at less than four minutes except for the title track, but Hnatow’s pedal steel and Craig’s electric playing are a constant treat, weaving in and out of each other and fitting in comfortably on both country-ish ballads like “What Do You Want With My Heart?” and passionate rock and roll like “Water & Wheat.”

These United States live shows already have a come together and join the magical, utopian circus feel, and that spirit is certainly still present on this album. The difference is that on What Lasts, Elliott explores the darker realities of life in addition to fun, and the album is richer for it. On “Life&Death She&I,” Elliott sings, “I’m just biding my time till I die, still there are many things I’ve learned to love about life.” Elliott confronts the inevitable, dark reality of death, but maintains an optimistic outlook and in the title track concludes “This is the greatest of all the days and the nights, this life, right here and now, is my favorite life.” On the final track “Water & Wheat,” Elliott closes out the album by defiantly yelping “I’ll continue to walk,” and even though What Lasts has some dark subject matter, it is far from a somber album but instead jubilant, seize the moment rock and roll.

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