Before I even begin to address the Excons’ new album or either of the two shows this weekend, I have to be honest about my degree of appreciation for these guys. In 2017, the local indie rock band set up to play at my backyard 40th birthday party and played all of three songs before the cops arrived. I still blame that on a still unidentified crappy neighbor that does not want to want to listen to good music on a sunny Sunday afternoon in June.
Catch the Excons Live Friday March 1st at Horizon Records!
They also played my 40 ½ year old birthday six months later and never once questioned why my friend Jake and I would have a 40 ½ year old birthday party for ourselves in the first place. They were, however, scarred by the 20 degree conditions that evening and kindly said “hell no” when asked to return to this December’s edition of the party. Given what they went through the previous year, I can’t say I blamed them.
Naturally, I am excited to talk about the fact that they have a new album releasing this Friday and I am currently listening to it for the sixth time as I write this.
The album, Sea Shanties, arrived hand delivered in my mailbox on Saturday afternoon and was followed by a text suggesting that it pairs well with whiskey. Challenge accepted, I watched my wife take off for a party and my son head to the movies. I poured a glass, put on my headphones, and got to “work”.
I started with a refresher course in The Excons and gave their first album, New Life, which I admittedly had not listened to in some time (Wife and I are at odds over who might have lost our CD, if I am being honest). I realized almost immediately that their debut album was absolute perfection and I wondered if the new record had any chance of measuring up. It’s not that I did not have faith in the band but more that New Life is simply that good.
The opening notes of Sea Shanties instantly put those fears to rest. The Excons have a signature sound – a note, even – that is all their own and it makes itself known in the first five seconds of the album. From there, though, everything is different. I could not put my finger on exactly what it was but a chat and a beer on drummer/singer John Byce’s front porch on a 66 degree February afternoon helped sort it all out for me.
Byce explained to me that New Life was a song by song project where each song was perfected and recorded for the album before they moved on to the next track. For Sea Shanties, however, they looked at the bigger picture and their intended theme of the album and worked more on playing the songs live. Then they did just that as they and then they recorded the album live in studio over three days at Asheville’s Echo Mountain. The result is a sound that is unequivocally the Excons’ but also brand new to the ear.
New Life gave us big songs like “Jimmy”, “Decay”, and “USA Chant” but Sea Shanties delivers a larger experience as a whole. This is less a collection of short stories and more of a complete novel, if I dare make a literary analogy in an article about music. The instrumentation has evolved significantly and the lyrical tone is more serious, if not just plain dark at times. In fact, the album’s most upbeat track, “Sailor”, delivers a chipper 1960’s rock vibe while also forcing you to wonder if the songwriter and his relationship with his in-laws is ever going to be ok.
“Sometimes we see some stuff we don’t like… but let’s sing about it,” Byce says with a laugh as we talk about the change in tone.
As I listen to the album on repeat I am continually hearing new things that I did not pick up on previous listens. Maybe if I listen to it a dozen more times, I will be properly equipped to write a suitable analysis of the album. That is the mark of good music, if you ask me. I want records that hold secrets that I have to find, or sometimes stumble across, as I enjoy them time and time again. The fact that we have some guys that live a stone’s throw from Horizon Records, The Radio Room, and Downtown Greenville cranking this stuff out is a local treasure.
Speaking of Horizon Records, the Sea Shanties CD release party is there, this Friday, at 8pm. Horizon has been a huge supporter of the Excons over the years (and vice versa) and hosted their first CD release show so it is nice to see that become a tradition with their latest album.
Normally, that announcement would come with the note that the Excons are a bunch of dads with day jobs and they won’t be performing live again anytime soon. This week, however, they will do rare back-to-back performances with a show at Eighth State Brewing Saturday night. That’s it, though, until April 27 for Project Host’s BBQ Cook Off and their June 6 end of school show at Quest Brewing Company (that’s a must see show for their cover of Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” alone).
Those are big gaps for such a talented local band my best advice is to take them in while you can. See them Friday at Horizon, Saturday at Eighth State, and buy Sea Shanties so you can do what I just did – hit repeat again and again for another listen of a great new album.