Reviews

Adam Haworth Stephens: We Live on Cliffs

Author: Tyler Munro
09/29/2010 | Sputnik Music | www.sputnikmusic.com | Album Review
Being that I'd consider myself a pretty big fan of Two Gallants, I definitely expected big things out of We Live on Cliffs, and yet even I'm having a hard time dealing with just how good it really is. While there's an obvious similarity between Stephens' debut solo album and his work with Tyson Vogel, it turns out he might be better off on his own. We Live on Cliffs is that good: better than Two Gallants, better than What the Toll Tells not far off from The Throes.

We Live on Cliffs is Adam Haworth Stephens' doing things the old fashion way. It's not to say he's falling into conventions, because the album isn't without its quirks, but it paints the southern songwriter in a subtler, softer fashion than we're used to. There's no yelling and no distortion, and little in the way of agony or anger. His voice is softer (but still a bit grating) and his lyrics stronger and more palpable than ever. The album's press-release calls We Live on Cliffs Dylan-esque, and I'm hard pressed to disagree. I will, however, clarify.

This is Dylan-esque after the controversy but before the inanity. It's the bridge between Blood on the Tracks and Blonde on Blonde, because for every "Tangled Up in Blue" there's a "Rainy Day Woman"; We Live on Cliffs works as much because of its conventions as it does in spite of them. The more traditional tracks like "Praises in Your Name" and "Southern Lights" work because of Stephens' lyrical ability and penchant for writing a good, bare-bones folk song, but the album's quirkier moments might be its best.

With lyrics like, "you've been to heaven but your feet have never touched the ground" and interminable groove, "The Cities That You've Burned" isn't just the best song on the album but quite possible the best song to come out this year. It's what you'd get if Bob Dylan was Roger Waters and "Another Brick in the Wall" was an alt-country tune; it's folk gone funky. "Angelina" is by the book in comparison, but its uke-like guitar playing coupled with its summer-y vibe and not so summer-y wordplay throw a big enough curve-ball to keep listeners on their toes.

Two Gallants are known for their stripped to its core approach towards folk-rock. Their music is angsty and to the point. We Live on Cliffs works in stark contrast to Stephens' day job. It's textured, using pianos, strings and even a bass (har-har!) to give it that added sense of depth, and while it's far from being overproduced the sound is clear as day.

Long story short, it's awesome.