Man's Gin
Smiling Dogs

Man’s Gin is the side-project of Erik Wunder, one half of American post-black metal act Cobalt – and although it never comes close to that band’s rage, it’s still at times a kindred, gloomy spirit. Instead of Cobalt’s brand of brittle, angular mayhem, Wunder has woven a rich tapestry of dark Appalachian folk and alt-country – with some other unexpected sounds cropping up throughout as well.

Of course, Sixteen Horsepower, Woven Hand, David Galas and the like are what immediately leapt to mind with the dreary title track, but Wunder – joined by Jarboe live bassist Josh Lozano and pianist/guitarist Scott Edwards – quickly moves out of that gray Civil War territory. In fact, that’s the last really bleak track for awhile, although the album still isn’t what you’d call sunny. “Free” recalls the earthy, thoughtful side of Pearl Jam, and “Stone on My Head” could be mid-era Soundgarden covering a surf rock dirge. “Solid Gold Telephone” bounces along on a jangly saloon-piano, while Wunder, Lozano and Edwards sing along in hangdog harmony. And although the first part of “Nuclear Ambition” is an acoustic lament, it quickly shifts into up-tempo fuzzed-out indie rock for its second half.

It’s not until “The Death of Jimmy Sturgis” that the dark clouds drift over again, with a woeful, chiming acoustic ballad that recalls Jar of Flies-era Alice in Chains, or Tom Waits in one of his less croaky moments. But then, lest we end on a downer, Man’s Gin closes out the set with the hopeful ballad “Doggamn.”

Overall, Smiling Dogs was a surprise – not just because a Cobalt side-project could be so soulful and yearning, but also because it wasn’t the miserable slog I was expecting it to be. And that’s a good thing – because Sixteen Horsepower’s already plowed that stony ground. Smiling Dogs is still meant for desolate American landscapes, but something tells me that folks in the Dust Bowl era weren’t aching for music that would just grind their misery further into the dirt. I have a feeling Man’s Gin would have played to some packed and grateful crowds back then.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
December 3rd, 2010

Comments

  1. Commented by: Stiffy

    Good debut. It doesn’t blow my mind quite like I thought it would but I must say for some simple mans music it’s damn good. When the mood strikes there isn’t much better. Hopefully they can give a sophomore next year. Good review J.


  2. Commented by: Biff_Tannen

    I was pretty let down by this one. As I said in the now playing thread, I think there are a lot of good ideas here, that point to a great sophomore album…. if there is one. I can’t stand the constantly repeated lyrics on a lot of these songs, see “solid gold telephone’ for an example.
    I wanted to love this, but the only song I reach for is the title track, which is near perfect to these ears and gives me those great chills during the chorus.


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