THESE UNITED STATES
Album review: "What Lasts"
Jesse Elliott is a syllable spitter, one of those tousled-haired young men with so much to say and in such a hurry to say it that they cram words into every nook and cranny of a song. As the leader of These United States, an indie-rock quintet with roots in Washington, Elliott channels his Dylanesque verbiage through chiming pop-rock melodies given a rootsy tinge by J. Tom Hnatow's steel guitar. On the band's fourth album, "What Lasts," it's well worth wading through those words, for their hidden emotional currents can sweep you away.
Wading into deep water is the premise of the track "Nobody Can Tell." Maybe it was an accident, maybe it was a suicide attempt, but before the drowning singer is pulled from the water, he wrestles with "memories thrashing back through icy blue cornstalks." He reemerges determined to keep swimming through waves of ambivalence about his ex-lover and his father.
Water is a recurring metaphor. "It's an upstream journey to you," Elliott sings on "The Great Rivers." And on the title track: "My whole head opens up, the worst kind of window/A sea deep, slow and mean rolling over my pasts."
On "Life & Death, She & I," he declares, "I'm just biding my time 'til I die." But Elliott can't resist the temptation of a self-deprecating pun, adding, "I'm just biting my tongue, useless and young." Biting his tongue is something this wordsmith has never done, and his records are better for it.
- Geoffrey Himes, Oct. 2010