Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon has proven himself to be quite the musical Renaissance man. Under the stage name Bon Iver, Vernon’s melodically mumbling tunes were met with wild indie success. Though I found his debut effort (supposedly written while Vernon was locked in an isolated cabin recovering from a breakup all by his lonesome) much more satisfying and accessible than his more recent work under the name Bon Iver, I still considered myself a fan – just one with a fledgling interest in the man. But it was a delight to come across Vernon’s project The Shouting Matches, a true musical smorgasbord that showcases a much wider range of sound than Bon Iver ever has.
Leading off the threesome’s first full length album “Grownass Man” is “Avery Hill,” a tune that positively reeks of classic rock and roll. When I played the song for my husband (not a particularly fond fan of Bon Iver’s music) and cunningly withheld the name of the man behind the tune, he guessed it was a Warren Zevon song. Though Zevon wasn’t a bad guess, it was certainly a departure from the truth. Other comparisons have been made to Tom Petty, Stevie Ray Vaughn, the Black Keys, and Wilco – and none of them are off the mark.
The Shouting Matches’ album offers a healthy dose of nearly every musical subgenre within the blues and rock realms. But the thing that makes this album so remarkable is the way in which The Shouting Matches blend sounds not only from track to track but throughout the course of each song. Much like Letitia VanSant, The Shouting Matches have a remarkable ability to surprise listeners. They challenge convention, even by indie standards, combining guitar-heavy musical hooks with melodies from completely separate schools. Take “Gallup, NM” – it starts off with a healthy dose of Southern rock sounds leading to a guitar solo so reminiscent of Wilco’s Nels Cline (of whom I am a devoted fan) that I had to check if he wasn’t featured on the track. And the opening vocals of “New Theme” immediately brought to mind Dr. Dog, a Philadelphia-based band whose name is nearly synonymous with retro lo-fi in my book. But the song takes on a more soulful sound as it progresses, forcing me to make comparisons to JD McPherson, the 21st century’s answer to authentic rhythm and blues.
So maybe The Shouting Matches are a bit self indulgent as nearly every song off “Grownass Man” brings to mind yet another one of my favorite musical artists. But it’s refreshing to have another bluesy band on offer these days, especially since more than a few of The Shouting Matches’ tunes, in particular “Three Dollar Bill,” are painfully danceable (that is, it’s painful to listen to them and not dance). And it never ceases to amaze me that some musicians are able to create such disparate worlds through their music. To think that the gorgeous but melancholic sounds of Bon Iver and the gritty, genre-fusing Southern rock of The Shouting Matches stem from one talented man is not only inspiring, it fills me with anticipation for what musical genius I might discover in some unexpected place next.