Them Coulee Boys – Die Happy
Step inside my head for a minute Tell me if you ever find the space
There is always a tipping-point at the best of parties, when the alcohol or drugs swimming through our systems erases any fears or shyness, and instead of wallflowers, we become dancers, reaching for the ceiling, bending the groaning floors beneath dirty feet, spilling our cups, and singing as a rough-hewed motley choir. Everything becomes magic; hardscrabble apartments become hot dance-clubs, old houses become enchanted mansions, dingy bars become glitzy nightclubs…This album, Die Happy, the third from Them Coulee Boys (and first on LoHi Records) is nothing short of magic. From the very first line, this record is an invitation out of the claustrophobia of one’s own mind, and into something more open, free, and communal. And in this way, Die Happy represents the best of rock and folk music too, because the best music calls us to celebrate with another, to touch one another, to sing with one another. Lyrically, this album is as close as a barroom bear-hug, that moment when a beloved friend sneaks up on you from behind and lifts your boots off the peanut-shell strewn floor. Love-struck, hopeful, introspective, but also bombastic, this album sounds like your brother’s voice, your sister’s voice, ringing out unexpectedly, and when you needed it the most. Imagine your darkest night, all alone, and then – the telephone rings, and the voice on the other end of the line makes everything better, makes everything okay again. Imagine being lost down a bent and dangerous alley, and that voice, far-off, calling you back towards the light…
When you meet Them Coulee Boys (say, in the dark days of a Wisconsin winter for beers at Eau Claire’s legendary townie dive bar, The Joynt) you can’t help but to cheer for them. You may even want to somehow throw down the deliriously boring shackles of your own life and become their roadie, or perhaps a pure-of-heart groupie. You certainly want to buy them a pitcher of beer, or, at the very least, their albums. They are, as Royal Tenenbaum once said, “true blue”. They’re the kind of guys who would (if you were on friendly terms) play at your wedding, help you move a shitty secondhand couch on a hot July afternoon, or pick up for you in the blurry, bloody moments of a bar-fight. Knowing this makes it all the easier to identify with their music, because you’re not just listening to it – you feel connected to it.
And all that being said, this album is truly world-class musicianship. Recorded at Pachyderm Studios (think: Nirvana, PJ Harvey, Son Volt) and alongside producer Dave Simonett of Trampled by Turtles, this is a mature expression of jubilation, depression, celebration, and acceptance. On the second track of this album there’s a line, “… the open road to you…” and this record unspools that way – like an open back-country American byway unspooling forever, lightning bugs blinking on and off in the ditches and fireworks exploding on the horizon and small towns dozing here and there along the way to some indistinct but certainly beautiful and promising point on up ahead. Maybe it’s a man or woman we’ve always loved, always lusted for. Maybe it’s a Pacific beach in the last dusky caress of the day, or a truck-stop parking lot at dawn…It’s a journey we’ve all taken at one point in our lives, and would certainly take again.
I can’t imagine a better accompaniment than this album, and this band, Them Coulee Boys.