Thursday, May 24, 2018

Despite conflict, Civil Wars' self-titled album a victory

It wasn't until very recently that I built up my tolerance, and even appreciation, for folk music. It is obvious after some exposure that there are bands that tackle folk and country with extreme elegance and sophistication, unlike annoyingly hokey country bands that made me initially scared of anything with a little bit of twang.

The Civil Wars made their triumphant entrance in 2011, with a Grammy-nominated debut album and a spot on the Hunger Games soundtrack. I still remember pulling myself away from my snark-filled Twitter feed to focus on the hypnotizing dark duo during their Grammy performance. The southern Goth pair is Joy Williams and John Paul White. Her delicate yet powerful vocals combine with his rugged rasp to create a harmony that pulls heartstrings in multiple directions.

Williams and White were each married to other people, their relationship merely work-related. All seemed well until in the midst of their tour it was canceled due to "internal discord and irreconcilable differences of ambition." Fans were crushed. Then came the announcement of the new self-titled album, allegedly recorded before the split.

When I listened to first single The One That Got Away, it was like being whispered some juicy gossip by a friend. The lyrics speak of an eerie and forbidden passion: "I never meant to get us in this deep / I never meant for this to mean a thing." It is hard not to imagine this as autobiographical, with its story line of star-crossed love and tortured serenading. "When I was staying just out of your reach / Begging for the slightest touch / Ooh, you couldn't get enough." Further fodder for theories about reasons the band broke up.

The album is captivating in all aspects. The lyrics are thought-provoking, the vocals powerful and the instrumentals meticulously composed. The LP tells a story that doesn't have a happy ending, though, because in the end, no matter how enchanting, the Civil Wars most likely will never sing these songs from a stage.

HANNAH ELLIOTT Robinson High

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