On their debut, this Washington, D.C., outfit serves up country-tinged folk sautéed in electronic seasoning; along with artier neighbors Le Loup and Exit Clov, These United States offer melodic and amusing ideas to the post-Fugazi landscape, but they’re still tied to thoughtful ones—in this case, mostly protesting heartless romantic antics.
The “band” is actually Jesse Elliott, whose singer-songwriter strummings are balanced by the psychedelic arrangements of producer David Strackany, who chimes in with vibes, glockenspiel, mandolin, and lots of off-kilter keyboards. A cast of guest musicians (dubbed the Federal Reserve Collective) add flavoring such as tabla, cello, and French horn. The result is cute and sweet, except when it’s not, which is when you listen closely. Behind the cotton-candy arrangements are songs about despair, demons, and D.C. women who cast aside poor Elliott to enjoy “weekends on the wrong side of the tracks.” Elliott’s whispered vocals seduce even when they lack range—he lets his lyrics do the talking anyway, as in “First Sight,” a fantastical narrative that seeks to prove Lou Reed’s claim that in between thought and expression lies a lifetime.
Elsewhere, a fist-raising chorus powers “Burn This Bridge,” while Burt Bacharach–derived horns trumpet Elliott’s classic-pop influences. The short songs too often find him serving up tasty, melodic morsels, only to snatch them away before you’re fully satisfied. But perhaps, just like the deceitful lovers he’s rhapsodizing, Elliott’s trying to leave you wanting more.