Friday, July 16, 2010

Federale - Devil in a Boot

It’s mid-day. The sun scorches the air and the drone of cicadas forms a ceaseless vibrating undertone. A Jack-in-the-box plays a crooked tune from behind a window with a white curtain indolently lifting and falling in the slow breeze. The sun catches dust adrift in the air, lending it a sepia patina. Flies buzz. A train pulls out of the station. Four gunshots ring out. “Devil in a Boot”, a soundtrack to a non-existent western, begins. It’s the kind of music that you hear while watching Clint Eastwood chew a cheroot and wear a cast-iron stove door under a wool poncho. The kind of music you read a Louis L’Amour book to.

Federale is here to make westerns cool again. To bring back the soiled and sweaty bandito and the solitary and scarred gunfighter, the poker saloons filled with gay glass breaking and bar fights, the rumbling thunderstorms that roll out over the prairies. And on this their second release, they are damned successful. The music itself tells the tale. It doesn’t need any words. The themes of the classic westerns are all there in the tonalities and timbres, just as they were in Ennio Morricone’s compositions. The notes that imply solitude and pain, shootouts and feuds, long dusty rides and revenge.

Collin Hegna, the bassist from Brian Jonestown Massacre, leads this rather sizeable band on their quest to pick up right where Morricone and his contemporaries left off in the late 1960s. The band even makes use of some of the same sounds that enlivened those sweaty western scenes. The sounds of the life: gunshots, cracking whips, train whistles, non-lingual voices, trumpets, environmental ambient noises. They play standard instruments as well, of course, using them to further invoke visions of the old west. At one point, Dasa Kalstrom, percussionist for the band, beats out the rhythm of a train gaining momentum that would have you looking both ways before crossing the tracks were you to be standing near some when you heard it. “Devil in a Boot” is filled with these onomatopoeic moments, these canvases of sound that are the images they are set to describe. It needs no movie. Only ears to see.

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