Okay, here we go, another loving couple, singing in harmony to sweetly quirky but beautiful songs. It’s really enough to make you sick, isn’t it? You kind of just listen or watch to see if they’ll kiss mid-set, like Mitch and Mickie in A Mighty Wind. Alright, alright, maybe that’s being unfair. Mates of State, Yo La Tengo and Low never end up in affectionate love pretzels during their shows, nor do local favorites Bunky, though Emily and Rafter do occasionally make eyes at each other. Still, you get the feeling like you’re intruding on something private, even if really, it’s not meant to be a mawkish PDA (and I don’t mean palm pilot). It’s just that raw emotion in the vocals. When you listen to Mates of State or Rainer Maria, you hear a sort of imperfect yet earnest quality in the delivery of the harmonizing male and female singers. And that earnestness exists in Minnesota’s husband-and-wife duo Fitzgerald, but their songs come off more like the folksy tunes of Ida or Low, and we’re much better off for it.
Rather than taking an “emo” couple approach, like some of the aforementioned acts, the duo of Mandy and Nathan play a slower, sadder kind of folk-pop that eschews the teenage awkwardness that often comes with bands of a similar vocal approach. They’re still plenty youthful sounding, don’t get me wrong, they just choose to play more eclectic pop music instead of cranking up the power chords. Right off the bat, they give us a burst of energy in the fantastic tune “How Far North?” And with that energy comes a haunting sort of wisdom in the duo’s lyrics: “I signed on at the age of twenty-one/the pay was good and my body was strong/but age came quickly and my youth was gone/fell beneath the waves but the ship still moves on and on.” From this song alone, you can tell there’s something special about Fitzgerald. Something that transcends mere cuddly couples-pop.
Throughout the course of the album, Fitzgerald stick to a hearty, warm and mostly-acoustic sound that uses more than the common rock band’s share of banjos. And in a song like “Bloody Stumps,” that banjo gets treated with a dose of clarinet and some grotesque lyrics: “I think you should cut your hands off/wave around your bloody stumps.” Though, halfway through, the banjo drops out to be replaced by acoustic guitar, bass, drums and violin. Fitzgerald may seem like a stripped-down kind of group, but their dynamic songwriting style shows a wider range of sonic abilities. “These Missing Hands/ Limbs” is further evidence, transitioning from a noisy rock song to a nearly-inaudible ballad.
From the noise, the violent imagery, the altogether eclectic style and Nathan’s burly beard, it’s clear that Fitzgerald isn’t a cuddles-as-gimmick couple. I don’t even really know if there is such a thing, to be quite honest. But I know that Fitzgerald is a talented and respectable duo, preserving the sanctity of marriage-between-bandmates by (if you’ll excuse the expression) making beautiful music together.
Ida – Heart Like a River
Kind of Like Spitting – Bridges Worth Burning
Iron & Wine – The Creek Drank the Cradle
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.