Originally published in Delusions of Adequacy
If you don’t consider Songs for the Forgotten Future Vol. 2 one of the most anticipated new records of the year, well, you just haven’t been paying enough attention.
Released a full five years after Pinataland’s majestic full-length debut, the new record owns up to the promise of its predecessor, packing 10 songs and some 48 minutes with 18 contributors on everything from guitar, upright bass and pedal steel to mandolin, cello, dobro and banjo. Like the collection that preceded it, Songs for the Forgotten Future Vol. 2’s ambitions are not small and producer JD Foster, a new set of hands at the studio helm, helps provide a sound and scope to prove it.
But, a penchant for scissored-in audio clips aside, the similarities between Volumes 1 and 2 somewhat end there. The first record was an engaging musical tour of historical fiction whose palette included a one-of-a-kind blend of contemporary folk-pop, Old World balladry, They Might Be Giants-style theatricality and bizarre carnival charm. The new one is a slightly more straight-forward take on Americana and, appropriately, the frontier folk of American memory. (In short, there’s a whole lot more pedal steel.)
That’s not to say Songs for the Forgotten Future Vol. 2 is as spare as some old dustbowl refrain. Far from it. The record combines the studied narratives of David Wechsler and Doug Stone – read the stories behind the songs at http://www.pinataland.com — with sweeping strings (“If Ice Were Warm”), show-stopping Broadway breakdowns (the epic-sounding “Dream of the New Mary”), mod-rock guitars (“In Old New York”) and vaguely hip-hop beats (the excellent “Centralia”).
Though tracks like “The Settlers” or “Ashland,” with their acoustic shuffles, call to mind alt-country or even Calexico, Wechsler’s piano punctuates and steals the spotlight on tracks like “The Ballad of John Banvard” or the dissonant “In Old New York.” While the closing “El Niño” relies on a mournful drone as much as it does guitar, two of the record’s best tracks — “The Fall of Sam Patch” and “The Sky is Blue, the Highway Wide” – kick into gear with toe-tapping verses that make sure to get the blood flowing. (Dedicated fans will find “The Sky is Blue, the Highway Wide” is the new record’s biggest shout-out to the polka-bounce still on display back on Piñataland’s incredible Songs from Konijn Kok EP.)
But the record’s centerpieces show Wechsler and Stone, the group’s songwriting duo, are a careful study in Americana. The notes of the pedal steel guitar are pitch-perfect in songs like “Ashland.” Throughout, acoustic guitars balance with both hushed narration and plaintive wails. Drummer Bill Gerstel’s steady and understated percussion on tracks like “The Settlers” lends an early rockabilly charm to the proceedings. Banjo musician Curtis Eller, who appears here and there, fits right in. It’s a warm and enveloping record, to be sure.
So, what’s the verdict? Well, Songs for the Forgotten Future Vol. 2 is a gem, more a polished stone than the piece that preceded it, and one that’s sure to age as well as the history these guys yearn to preserve.