Punks gone country. They take all kinds of forms: Lightning-fast thrashgrass band. Gravel-throated, neck-tattooed troubadour. Social D-indebted twang-rock hybrid.
If this idea doesn’t resonate with you, visit the American West. They’re everywhere.
Gun Outfit are from the West, but they take a different—and unique—angle on this concept. This is no big surprise, considering their origins in Olympia, Washington, where different isn’t just encouraged, it’s a practically a birthright. There, the band started out in a deeply DIY scene, playing alongside post-grunge punks Milk Music and noise-pop combo Broken Water. Each oozed a distinctly verdant Northwest vibe.
But Gun Outfit was always a little different. Led by guitarists/singers Dylan Sharp and Carrie Keith, the band tempered its punk blasts with a sense of restraint, eschewing wild-eyed oblivion in favor of a sort of knowing coolheadedness. Where their contemporaries embraced the primal spirit of punk, Gun Outfit explored a more nuanced sound. They smoldered while others scorched the earth.
Several years and a move to Los Angeles later, Gun Outfit has blossomed into a purveyor of pure and beautiful psychedelic country-rock. The band’s new album Out of Range, released by alt-twang powerhouse Paradise of Bachelors, is its most fully realized release yet; the ideal form Gun Outfit has been evolving toward for years.
As always, the band’s sound on Out of Range is driven by the languid voices and lysergic guitar playing of Sharp and Keith, who trade off both duties throughout. Vocally, Sharp speak-sings a la Lou Reed (or, more precisely, Silver Jews’ David Berman), while Keith’s spectral intonation gives these songs a needed leavening agent. Their guitars both seem permanently set somewhere between jangle and jam, with the distortion turned down and clean tones as far as the eye can see.
Lyrically, Out of Range is heavy on literature and mythology, establishing a world filled with historical figures like Orpheus and Eurydice, Samuel Beckett and Wallace Stevens. Gun Outfit calls it “Western expanse” music, and that’s as accurate as any other label. Road trips out West offer lots of time to read in between towns, y’see. At least until motion sickness sets in.
Out of Range begins with a short callback to Gun Outfit’s early days, a gnarled little bit of distorted electric guitar that runs through opening track “Ontological Intercourse,” but soon blends in with other sounds. The song is twangy, for sure, but spiked with a sense of urgency that recalls rock bands like The Clean and The Feelies. The band is best at this picked-up pace, as evidenced by the rambling dream-blues of “Background Deal,” “Strange Insistence,” with its faint motorik pulse, and album highlight “Sally Rose.” With a bouncing bassline, crackling guitars and Keith’s vocals echoing across the ages, the latter is as noisy as Gun Outfit gets here.
Elsewhere, the band excels by taking its time. Keith sounds like a classic country singer on the lush reverb-ballad “Three Words.” Banjo leads the way on “The 101,” a shadowy, unnerving front-porch tune. “Landscape Painter” is a walking-paced beauty packed with curlicue guitars and lovely vocal interplay between Sharp and Keith. And despite having the shortest running time on the album, “Cybele” is so openly unhurried, it seems to linger the longest.
That’s at least part of what makes Gun Outfit special: this band can make a brisk song feel expansive, and it knows how to inject a slow song with unmistakable urgency. You don’t learn how to do that…or at least it’s not easy to learn it. You just have it. Gun Outfit has it, and they wield it with great skill.