Saturday, August 2, 2008

Abilene - Two Guns, Twin Arrows

Abilene's second album, Two Guns, Twin Arrows, is a post-hardcore record of many facets and signifances. In the canon of post-Hoover records, Two Guns is one of the most recent and also, overall, one of the very best. The very best, perhaps, after Radio Flyer (in my opinion) and depending how the mood takes you, Abilene's first album, or Until The Eagle Grins. It's also broadly speaking the first return, or anything approaching, to Hoover's Lurid Traversal of Route 7 - a point the fakejazz review below hints at strongly. Two Guns, Twin Arrows of course brings back together on record the two most prominent and artistically incendiary members of Hoover, Alex Dunham (Radio Flyer, Regulator Watts, Abilene) and Frederick Erskine (Crownhate Ruin, June of '44, HIM) on guitar/vocals and trumpet, respectively.

Beyond that, Two Guns, Twin Arrows is a reshaping of the sound of the self-titled Abilene album: the latter undoubtedly critically undervalued, six songs of slow-burning, tension-breaking minimalism; giving way to a longer set of bombastic, yet immensely subtle and sinuously winding combinations of trumpeting jazz and guitar-based post-hardcore (post-rock, even). My allegiance switches between both: the midsection of 'October' and 'Blackleg' from Abilene affects me almost like the greatest intensities of Slint's Spiderland; while the opening pair of Two Guns, Twin Arrows, 'Twisting the Trinity' and 'Blanc Fixe' sends my mind to opposite but similar excesses of post-rock wonder - perhaps what a third Slint album may have sounded like, though only with the addition of a virtuoso trumpeter and fellow member of a decade-old emo hardcore legend.

Two Guns, Twin Arrows is to the Hoover family tree a culmination and a rebirth, a reshaping of tense, rhythmic post-hardcore into a new movement of fire, jazz, distortion and feedback. Even without the hyperbole, this is a great and largely brilliant record; a little challenging to some, or perhaps all of us, but doubly rewarding in the end.

Below is a selecton of reviews and information about the album, while I pick up the discussion of the tracks again at the end: [or skip to the important news]


[3/5 stars]

"Starting off with vocals that reach back to guitarist Alex Dunham's previous band Hoover, as well as original hardcore like Black Flag, Abilene embarks on a strange, jagged trip of an album that recasts shifting jazz as post-hardcore. What makes this record click where their debut fell short is the inclusion of June of 44's Fred Erskine on trumpet. On tracks like "Twisting the Trinity." Erskine tugs the song in the direction of free jazz -- Dunham, Scott Adamson, and William Ackerman first resist, but then the tune collapses into a fluid jazz sway. On "Blanc Fixe," Erskine assaults with his trumpet, calling in a smooth but piercing punk/jazz. "Fellini" sounds the most like Hoover, with Dunham shouting over spiraling riffs. It's hardly ambient, but you get the sense that is the direction Abilene is heading -- one of broad experimentalism with traditional instrumentation."

Charles Spano, All Music Guide

Abilene - Two Guns, Twin Arrows (54 40 or Fight)


"We're reaching the tenth anniversary of a very important record... one where there probably won't be a special deluxe re-release... one that probably won't even get that much attention. Hoover's full length album, The Lurid Traversal of Route 7, came out on Dischord Records in August 1993.

The newer millennium finds Alex Dunham of Hoover leading the Chicago band Abilene. Abilene's self-titled album came out on Slowdime label a couple years back and was recorded only a few months after the band formed. As a result, the release was a bit uneven: a few songs were poweful rockers, delivered with an "in your face" vocal style, but the other songs were moody, half-done instrumentals. Abilene's new full length, Two Guns, Twin Arrows, finds the band tighter and more cohesive. And it also reunites Dunham with his old Hoover pal Fred Erskine.

While The Lurid Traversal of Route 7 won't get a two-cd reissue and get re-reviewed and re-appreciated, there's something better you can do to relive those long past glories. You can buy this goddam Abilene CD. On the bad side, time hasn't changed the Hoover boys very much. On the good side, time hasn't changed the Hoover boys very much. These are the same sounds which would later help define the "Louisville/Chicago sound" (odd given Hoover is from DC). The same dark, searing, powerful guitar sound. The same complex rhythms and liquid guitar and bass playing. The same depth-increasing use of space.

Erskine joins Abilene not to play bass but instead solely as a trumpet player. However, his trumpet playing is not merely a decoration; it is now an integral part of Abilene's sound. Some songs the trumpet carries the melody for extended portions, like in the album opening punch-in-the-face of "Twisting the Trinity." Some songs the trumpet is wrapped around Dunham's guitar, like in the scorching finale to "Blanc Fixe." Other times, it is warbling and humming, adding even more color or tension to an already dense composition.

While one could say that the addition of the trumpet lessens the impact of Dunham's vocals, that is more than made up for with the added density to the songs and the overall greater complexity and tightness to the arrangements. Dunham blasts into songs like "Fellini," screaming his lungs out. Earlier, that would be the most dominant sound in the song. However, now the guitar is even stronger and louder, the drums pound harder, and the trumpet injects a little humility, its softness evening out Dunham's pain and strain. With their second album, Abilene's songs now seem fully realized and fully balanced.

Perhaps I was mistaken when I called Bellini's Snowing Sun the last great 90s Touch and Go album. Abilene isn't that successful, but it's expertly crafted, dark and colorful. With artists like Abilene (who have now added Doug McCombs... imagine) and labels like 54'40" or Fight, perhaps the 90s Chicago sound will never leave us.", february 2003: jim steed.


"Abilene calls into question the darker elements encountered in life, coupled with a positive aspect; consequently, both facets bind the music to a place centered on intensity and comfort. Abilene is essentially about ambient soundscapes." -Scott Holman, Copper Press (CP6).

"Formed in 1998, and originally consisting of Alex Dunham on guitar and
vocals, Scott Adamson behind drums, and bassist Craig Ackerman, Abilene recorded and released a six-song slow-burner on the now-defunct Slowdime label. Before writing and recording Two Guns, Twin Arrows, Fred Erskine (June of '44, Hoover) joined to play trumpet, and the band evolved musically into something more dense, equally brooding, yet still ambient and subtle in nature.

Abilene's members have a prestigious musical past which has included such bands as June of '44, Hoover, Lustre King, Chisel.Drill.Hammer, Just a Fire, Radio Flyer and Regulator Watts.

Scott Adamson - Drums

Alex Dunham - Guitar, voice

Fred Erskine - Trumpet

Craig Ackerman - Bass

RIYL: Hoover, The Sorts, Fugazi, Lungfish, Johnboy, 90 Day Men, and Karate"

Abilene bio on 54'40" or Fight


"Abilene’s second full-length, and first with Fred Erskine, is the album for which some critics pined when reviewing its much more mellow, spacious debut. “Three great songs, three OK ones,” they lamented, much to our surprise (we had it as five to one in Abilene’s favor). However, with Two Guns, Twin Arrows, Abilene has upped the ante, and slowly, one-by-one, laid eight aces across the table, all while maintaining a grim poker face.

Alex Dunham’s bristling yet atmospheric guitar playing and the subdued, complementary trumpeting of Erskine crest atop deep grooves as bassist Craig Ackerman and drummer Scott Adamson mine soul, dub and jazz for their subtle, fluid rhythms. At times, the players layout behind Erskine as he glides into passages informed by Freddie Hubbard and Don Cherry before the band shifts into states of transfixing tension-and-release. At others, Abilene is more insistent than ever, coursing manically through odd-time signatures beneath acrid lead guitar and shifting rhythmic tenacity. Still, at its core, it’s engaging ambient music for those who like it played with standard instrumentation. And no one does that like Abilene."

"Chicago based Abilene offer a brooding, dark and well-constructed album incorporating the expected instruments alongside a more unexpected trumpet advantage. This brass incorporation lands the band somewhere in the realm of post-hardcore meets jazz whereas songs deftly mix a seemingly quiet impromptu with more determined musical aggression in “Blanc Fix” and “Twisting the Trinity.” Creative, dark, tense and well balanced from the late Hoover bandmates Alex Dunham Fred Erskine. Bravo. - Wonka Vision

Two Guns, Twin Arrows reviews on 54'40" or Fight


Two Guns and Twin Arrows are (two separate) places in the state of Arizona along the famous Route 66; Twin Arrows marks the intersection between Route 66 and the supplanting I-40. They are pretty bleak rest stops now, as the photographs (from and testify.

And of course Abilene is itself, among other things, the name of a city in Texas.


[The news: here (in the comments) and also here, that Hoover are actually playing a show in London on August 27 (with Bluetip), and also in Spain at the St. Feliu festival. Mega awesomeness.]


Opener ‘Twisting The Trinity’ serves as a clear introduction to the revised, new Abilene sound: cacophonous opening guitar continues for a few bars, then trumpet, vocals, and finally the rhythm section comes in; all layered, spacious as on Abilene but instantly noisier. Then it goes quiet again, though Erskine returns with relatively gentle phrases on the trumpet, introducing a recognizably jazzy sound to the album. The second track, ‘Blanc Fixe’, steps this element of the music up; at first, winding, soaring phrases with a strangely Eastern feel; before Dunham kicks back in with vocals, again heavier than before on the previous album, but with a similar underlying kind of feel. ‘Blanc Fixe’ soars back into the sort of agonizing cacophony - and believe me when I say I mean that in the best possible way - that establishes itself at the heart of this album. On the Hoover Mixtape I wrote of 'Twisting The Trinity' - though this in fact applies better to 'Blanc Fixe' - "The winding, slightly exotic or Oriental melodies of Erskine's trumpet meld with the surprisingly heavy guitars to produce a viscerally powerful and energetic sound."

‘Fitch’ returns more prominently to the guitar, heavily accented on the downstroke, underlaid with subtle trumpeting while lyrically the song shouts "Fitch!", with both guitar and voice. Here, the trumpet is colour in the background, in the empty space between action and over the soft rhythm. As the song rises and falls, the trumpet for the most part acts as counterpoint to the guitar. ‘Ghost Writer’, the fourth track, is an extremely quiet song, like those on the first album, but with added For Carnation-like flourishes - both in the texture of the guitars and in the ambient noise.


'Fellini' opens up the album again into a loud, aggressive sound. It's a good song to illustrate why Two Guns, Twin Arrows might be a better album than Abilene, like Hoover but also not like Hoover in the strength and reach of its dynamics: playing descending trumpet and ascending guitar off against each other, and vice versa. The songs swells and levels out, finally in a swirling, perfectly balanced blend of jazz and post-hardcore.

'Apache Country' begins in similar, but far quieter, fashion; rolling drums, soft vocals, an alternately clarion and smokey trumpet segue into For Carnation-like post-rock spaciousness. Post-rock not in the grandiose sense, but in the incredibly tense, finely textured style exhibited amongst other settings on the aforementioned group's self-titled album. 'Phase Four' almost extends the comparison, branching out into simultaneously ambient and intrusive electronics - all very Hoover-ish, though seemingly out of place on this album - with what can only be described as gnarled but impassioned vocals.

The final song, 'Solidarity' is I'm told is a reaction to September 11th and its consequences - Two Guns, Twin Arrows was released in 2002. The lyrics don't begin for a minute or two, after a winding trumpet section; but as they do, they unfold in unison between Dunham and Erskine, over a relatively simple, rhythmic guitar riff before the song soars back into instrumental candour - candour in expression, carefully judged and balance, though not without weight and feeling. In fact, it sounds quite different from the Hoover of just under ten years previous, slightly more calming than cathartic. 'Solidarity' is, when considered carefully, a rather moving and quite concise - at just over four minutes - conclusion to the album and, stylistically, a return to the opening sounds of 'Twisting the Trinity' and 'Blanc Fixe'.

"a black light has fallen fate outlined this morning inside we saw the bleeding with faith, outside we cried a black light has fallen retell the morning resell the time your faith's outside divisions been drawn and made justice with flags a-wavin', a stop-gap never seen patriot start selling a hollow unity"


Abilene - Two Guns, Twin Arrows (via kissmysoundsystem)

54 50 or Fight! online store



Anonymous said...

This is fantastic! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

abilene mean "the father of mourning" which after a listen makes more sense then the city name in texas

gabbagabbahey said...

abilene, two guns, twin arrows = all place names in SW United States. seems more likely than choosing a supposed etymology of a Hebrew word. Also, the city name comes from the Bible (Luke 3:1).