I’ve always had trouble being able to listen to mainstream country music. Aside from the current tendency for Nashville producers to slather everything in auto-tune, rendering each singer essentially a robot with a bit of twang, there’s an absence of darkness and grit that was once synonymous with country music. Music has evolved a great bit since Hank Williams’ day, however, and as the Faith Hills and Shania Twains can shed the darkness in favor of a pop friendly appeal that your average American, who probably doesn’t have much of an interest in murder ballads or ghostly reverb, will more readily enjoy. And thus, the trail of gasoline and sour mash extends elsewhere, left to other ruffians to ignite.
Kansas City’s American Nightmare doesn’t play country music—they’re a rock `n’ roll band through and through. Yet their sound evokes a gothic Americana that stems straight from the heartland, yet soaks up influences from post-punk and indie rock, culminating in a ragged and harrowing debut EP, Excerpts From The Broken Bone Choir. “The Well” has an airy, cinematic vibe, rolling along like an Ennio Morricone film score with vocals provided by the American equivalent of Nick Cave, a voice that adds depth and intensity to these gothic tales. “The Farm” extends for a tense seven minutes, electric guitar weeping over a waltzing acoustic, creating the sort of soundtrack to which a shadowy character could mosey into town. “Broken Bone Choir” rocks out a bit more, dissonantly and discordantly, with vocalist Shaun Hamontree growling a bit more ferociously. But on closer “Tension,” the group takes an instrumental turn that evokes post-rockers like Explosions in the Sky or Mogwai, creating an abrasive soundscape that adds a bit of avant-garde flair to their saloon-burning ballads.
Listening to Excerpts From the Broken Bone Choir is a spooky experience, intense and haunting, notes ringing out and drawing forth terror ever so slowly. It’s gritty American music, and it feels real, even if their sound is one of mythological proportions.
Sixteen Horsepower – Low Estate
Lowlights – Dark End Road
Angels of Light – Everything Is Good Here/Please Come Home
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.