Monday, February 25, 2008

Out tomorrow: Punch Brothers - Punch

Anyone familiar with Chris Thile's music knows that he likes to think outside the box. In the past, his tendency for experimentation and complex musical passages have produced great music. On Punch, Thile's instincts finally fail him.

The record begins with a jaunty tune called "Punch Bowl." The songs continues where Thile's last record left off. It's a very traditional sounding bluegrass tune (well, as traditional as Thile usually gets). From there the record falls off.

Tracks two through five are four movements of a piece called "The Blind Leaving the Blind." While it seems like a good idea in theory, the movements end up being a series of drawn out, overly busy instrumental passages that resemble tracks from Thile's Not All Who Wander Are Lost. The problem is "The Blind Leaving the Blind" lacks the precise musicality of Not All Who Wander, leaving the songs sounding too sloppy and jammy.

There are moments in "The Blind Leaving the Blind" that are musically satisfying but you have to sit through a lot of mush to reach the good stuff.

Once you cross the hump that is "The Blind," things improve a little. "Sometimes" is an instrumental tune that while at times seems too busy, has clear melodies that don't just seem like the band is running scales.

The standout track on the album is "Nothing, Then." It's a droney three minute pop song that slowly builds, crescendos, then trails off in the end with an quiet instrumental passage. Lyrically, the song deals more directly with Thile's divorce than any other on the album, though it is the overriding them on the entire album.

The last song, "It'll Happen" is also a good song. It's a somber tune which Thile delivers well.

This is Thile's weakest record to date, well, at least since he reached puberty. He's still a brilliant songwriter and musician, but on this record his ambition got the best of him.

Punch Brothers will play at the Clayton Center on March 29. Tickets are available via


freddy said...

nice to see a thile/punch brothers review. bummer that it's not the glorious review i was hoping for. i still must buy it and hear it on my own though. as big a fan i am of his playing and artistry and all that, i have always been somewhat disappointed with his songwriting. yet i always hope each record will be "the one." (i felt the same way about nickel creek, but they quit before they got to where they really needed to be.) oh, well. maybe next year... (just like his beloved cubbies)

freddy said...

ok, i realize i'm just having a conversation with myself at this point, but i got the record yesterday. i enjoyed it quite a bit - not nearly as tedious as i thought it would be. thile is definitely still working through his homeschooled xian upbringing. some of the lyrics seem like letters to his listeners who have questioned him over the years - whether it's his alleged straying from j-bro or his straying from trad grass. both the xians and the trad-grassers want to claim his unique talent to further their own agendas. and he is making his peace with that. his best lyrical work to date.
everyone knows this guy is the best mandolin player to ever walk the earth, right? anyhow, i digress. i think this is his best work yet (Nickel Creek included). Grade: A-

Anonymous said...

I'm not a bluegrass fan at all but I am a musician. I actually heard the song Punch Bowl on Jay Leno and went to look it up online. I'll grab the album someday as well. As far as punch bowl goes though it's a well thought out song.

Anonymous said...

wow. this review astonishes. did we hear the same album? i have been playing thile's new suite over and over and finding new rewards each time. it is a genre-busting masterpiece. to use the word "mush" about this work is like saying of mozart, "there are simply too many notes."

Anonymous said...

The Blind Leaving The Blind is not mush, it is brilliant, satisfying and truly captivating. Buy the record, soon!

Robert Power said...

The reviewer simply doesn't have the sophistication to hear the transitions in the suite as musical. That's all.