Death country, country noir or whatever other labels anyone wants to give them, the three guys that are Toronto’s Elliott Brood push the boundaries of the country genre. Listening to the album the first three references that come to mind are Sunny Day Real Estate, Nirvana, and Elliott Smith – primarily in regards to the vocals. Production wise, it sounds like an indie rock record, and there’s definitely a punk energy to some of the songs (especially “Write in All Down” with it’s “Hey, hey, hey” chant). Then there’s the subject matter. The title is a reference to the Mountain Meadows Massacre – where a Mormon militia in Utah territory slaughtered a wagon train of Arkansas emigrants bound for California in 1857, sparing only the young children. The songs suppose what might have happened to those children, which puts everything well into the realm of country and folk, as does the use of banjo and harmonica on the album (The band also employs an amplified ukulele. I’m not sure what genre that would point to, but it gives a nice jangle to sound.).
It’s interesting the album is no darker in tone over all. The subject matter is heavy, but hope never seems completely lost. It helps that song tempos are more upbeat than not. Songs like “Without Again” and “Miss You Now” are pretty infectious – the former having a great beat provided by Stephen Pitkin and a Samsonite suitcase (really). Acoustic guitars round out the sound, as well as piano and even an old toaster for percussion on “The Valley Town.” Mark Sasso’s vocals have a well-worn grittiness that fits the music but sometimes makes the lyrics a little difficult to understand. It’s not a major problem; still, without a lyric sheet, it does limit the critique of the songwriting.
It’s an ambitious record with a great sound and songs to back it up. Just don’t ask me what genre it is.