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 etix.com.