The District Attorneys – “Orders From…”

Grafton Tanner provides his take on Athens, Georgia’s The District Attorneys most recent EP “Orders From…”

Grafton Tanner

out of 10

The District Attorneys
Orders From...
April 20, 2010

Athens, GA is the pinnacle of weird.  Friends of mine play in Athens bands that span the entire musical spectrum: jazz, indie folk, prog (Mathens), noise, Americana.  I can hop over to Go Bar and catch Bigfoot rap on stage about an obscure politician or something, walk over to New Earth for a DJ and some dub, and then stop off at the 40 Watt to catch the District Attorneys, a dreamy Americana band with roots in Band of Horses and other like-minded country rock outfits.  These are just a few examples.  For every dub artist at New Earth on Friday night though, there is another doing the exact thing the next night.  The same applies to every genre in this melting pot.

Futurebirds are arguably the biggest up and coming band in Athens, and they are doing Americana/country/rock justice.  Following suit are Packway Handle Band and the District Attorneys, whose EP entitled “Orders From…” presents seven breezy country rock tracks that embody good ol’ Americana but gets lost in the wake of so many similar projects.  The lyrics are nostalgic and unambiguous.  The guitars are in prime form (jangly with just enough distortion), and the pedal steel bends and croons over swirling organ.  This is also the album of the ride cymbal, did I mention that?

So what sets “Orders From…” apart from the countless other bands doing the exact same thing?  Not much.

“Orders From…” opens with “Going to Carolina,” that proverbial hittin’-the-road and forgettin’-the-troubles song.  The chorus is hyper catchy, but to get to it, one has to endure the verses, which linger on a singular chord for most of the time.  By the two minute mark, the guitar riff with its dirty tone becomes increasingly annoying and sappy.  (By golly, we are going to Carolina, and I’m plum happy!)  This is live music to be enjoyed with a cold beer in a dim bar−nothing more, nothing less.  At the song’s end, we’re all a little nostalgic, maybe even halfway packed.  Nothing spectacular stirs within you because nothing spectacular ever really happens in this opener, which is indicative of the next six tracks.

The rest of the EP follows orders from the opening track.  “The Caro-lines” serves as more of a bridge between tracks 1 and 3 than as a standalone song.  “Splitsville” is a simple ditty about that one town that’s “never enough.”  The refrains are sung by a chorus of people meant to evoke the sense of bar room camaraderie.  The voices rise and the ruckus hits a stride and then dies by the end, leaving the singer’s voice to repeat the refrain alone, drenched in reverb.  It’s a moment uncharacteristic of the rest of the song, transporting you from the bar to a place far away from the music.  Stripped away of everything else, the DA’s sound like a band with room to breathe and grow by the song’s end.

And yet, they don’t.  The EP stagnates halfway through; by track 4, you are in the same place you were at the start.  The lazy, balmy feel of the opening tracks continues to saturate the remaining songs on “Orders From…”  Nothing truly extraordinary occurs until “Where Have You Been Lately?” kicks in with its snare gallop and repeating hook.  It is a summery, lazy query: “Where have you been lately?  Your music could save me.”  The DA’s obligatory over-distorted guitar disrupts the quaintness of the song but finds its place as it gradually builds in intensity.  The lead singer’s voice is washed in crashing cymbals and blaring guitar.  Frustration ensues.  The question is never answered.  The DA’s energy mounts and the song ends nicely while the question hangs in the air.

“Jerry Ten,” another lazy mid-tempo piece, closes the EP and serves as the final reminder that the DA’s have crafted a formulaic Americana record.  It is an extended toeing of the line: flashes of innovation amongst a whole heap of bland country rock.  In a city like Athens and in a year like 2011, the District Attorneys have some heavy competition.  To tread musical roads that so many before them have traversed, the District Attorneys will have to step up a bit and break free from a mold that limits their songs to structural and sonic constraints.

-Grafton Tanner, July 14, 2011