Tim Bracken, wtop.com
WASHINGTON - These United States is a difficult band to classify. It possesses all of the qualities a classic American band needs: shades of rock 'n' roll and folk, solid hooks and a charismatic leader. This is a group that is deservedly ready for mass exposure.
Originally formed in D.C. by songwriter Jesse Elliott, the band's output has run the gamut from sparse Americana ballads to fist-pump-inducing rock. Elliott's strong songwriting is a constant element -- literate and heady, exuberant yet deliberate.
The band is gearing up for its fifth album release, available Tuesday, June 12. The self-titled album embodies a confidence that can only come from a group of people who have spent copious amounts of time together. These United States performed almost 150 shows last year and averaged 200 in previous years.
The history of These United States mirrors the adventurous spirit of Elliott's songs. Elliott initially came to D.C. to assist writer Richard Florida with research and speechwriting.
"D.C. was always one of those places that I had visited and loved, and wanted to spend more time in," Elliott says. "It ended up being my first sort of serious, in-depth East Coast-city experience."
During those formative years, Elliott helped spread the collaborative spirit by forming a loose collective of D.C. bands called The Federal Reserve. The idea behind The Federal Reserve was essentially what These United States would become - - a core group of musicians featuring guest appearances from like-minded performers, a sort of mini-community of song. The Federal Reserve saw successful runs at area venues Wonderland Ballroom and the IOTA Club and Café.
The first album, "A Picture of the Three of Us at the Gate to the Garden Of Eden," was mostly a collaboration between Elliott and David Strackany (aka Paleo), and their initial live shows in D.C. featured Mark Charles Heidinger, who later formed the band Vandaveer.
Elliot describes the early These United States shows as "a Violent Femmes-y, live acoustic power-pop, punk trio" that later "coalesced into something actually resembling a real live, actual rock 'n' roll band" by the time the band released its third album, "Everything Touches Everything," in 2009.
The new album finds Elliott and crew stepping up to a higher level of character studies, catchy pop hooks and downright thoughtful poetry. The album brings a huge cast of supporting characters, including appearances from members of Deer Tick, Phosphorescent, Mynabirds, Langhorne Slim, Jukebox the Ghost, Revival and more. In total, almost 30 musicians appear on the album.
The band constructed many of its songs gradually.
"A lot of it started off as demos, and once we got to a certain point, we said ‘Hey, we actually like how these demos turned out. Let's just keep these and build the rest of the song around that, rather than going and reinventing the wheel,'" Elliott says.
The result is an album "about different people in different places, spread out all across this strange, wonderful continent of ours," Elliott says. It sounds more like a celebration than a showcase of one songwriter's efforts -- which seems to have been Elliott's goal all along.
These United States is currently touring in support of the new album, and will play the Black Cat on July 7.
Listen to songs from the album:
(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)
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