The Autumn Saints “Wind Burn & Broken Oak”

Man in the Moon Records, 2023

Debut studio album from Anglo-American roots rockers.

The Autumn Saints are an Anglo-American band playing Americana with a decidedly Indie rock feel. Based in Oxford and fronted by American bass player and vocalist Britt Strickland, this is the first full length recording from a band that would certainly seem to have been making quite an impact on the live circuit, judging by their reviews.

There’s a lot of good things going on with this album – some strong songwriting and good guitar lead melodies pushed on by a solid band that have clearly been honing their sound as a unit for some time. They sound tight and focused throughout the album and, for a four piece, there’s a lot happening within the music of this band; they have a great guitar sound and the inclusion of Hammond organ and occasional lap steel really rounds out some of the songs. The album gets underway with ‘Moving Through The Deep’ and it’s a powerful opening track, jangly, punchy, nice shifts in pace, it really grabs you and pulls you into the album. Next up is ‘The Gadfly’, still punchy but slightly slower in pace and with a wailing harmonica on the intro, “I am the gadfly.  I see in your eye, the wanting I adore”, a song for a dilettante, perhaps. Third track is ‘She Wanders Out’ and it’s during this song that the warning bells start to ring. The Autumn Saints use a lot of effects, particularly reverb and delay. It makes for a great guitar sound, and they really do have a great guitar sound, but they appear to apply it to everything, and on all the tracks. ‘She Wanders Out’ is a good song, but it sets off a warning because the arrangement is so similar to the first two tracks and a quick scan through the album reveals the same approach to every song. They don’t judiciously use the effects in question, everything is swimming in them. Strickland appears to have a good, strong voice that cuts through the music and has real presence; or it would if he didn’t sound like he was singing from the bottom of a well all the time. They also seem to use some form of gating and/or compressor on the drums, the result being that the poor drummer often sounds like he’s hitting a selection of wet cardboard boxes rather than a drum kit. That’s not to say that these effects don’t contribute to the sound or add drama and texture – but over the length of the album everything starts to sound the same and you can’t get through the effects to listen to the music. It’s like putting a lot of ketchup on everything you eat – eventually, all you can taste is the ketchup.

The band are, obviously, looking to develop a signature sound. Reverb, well used, can always add impact to a song. In a live setting, these effects will be dramatic and you can see them working well, but over the length of a studio album they restrict the dynamics and don’t allow the music to show light and shade.  If this was a live album, mixed in with the sound of the crowd, you can see it having real impact, but on a studio recording it sounds forced and, after a while, more than a little dated; reminiscent of U2 in the 90s, which may have worked then but sounds strangely at odds with more modern production. This is, clearly, a very talented outfit with a lot to offer, but the use of so many effects, across so much of the recording, makes it really hard to assess their true potential. The opening track, ‘Moving Through The Deep’ is an absolutely killer start to an album, but the fact that the following eleven tracks all use exactly the same production techniques means it really struggles to make the impact it should. ‘She Wanders Out’ has a great riff but the reverb on the voice ends up fighting the reverb on the guitar and it starts to sound quite messy. A simpler, more stripped-back arrangement might have served the song much better.

The Autumn Saints certainly have a great way with a riff – ‘Up in Rags’, ‘Greenhorn’, ‘Too Late Tonight’, all have good, catchy riffs but they all end up buried in the soup of their reverb-laden arrangements. The guitar sound bears some resemblance to the work of Jimmy Wilsey on Chris Isaak’s early recordings, but where those records let the guitar sparkle, these recordings mire it in arrangements that don’t give any individual instrument the space to breathe. You can hear what they’re trying to achieve with this album and the sort of signature sound they’re going for, but the end result hasn’t really paid off. Heard individually, all these songs work. Combined together on the same recording they all, inevitably, start to sound the same and that does these songs, and the band, a disservice.

There’s considerable potential here and it’s a bold move for a band to go for such a stylised sound on their first album. It’s an approach that hasn’t worked this time around but you can’t fault the ambition. We’ll be hearing more from The Autumn Saints.


About Rick Bayles 354 Articles
Now living the life of a political émigré in rural France and dreaming of the day I'll be able to sing those Cajun lyrics with an authentic accent!
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