These United States
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These United States


Band Rock Folk


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"Austin Chronicle -- PICTURE Album Review"

**** (four stars)

Teaming D.C.'s Jesse Elliott and David Strackany (aka Paleo), These United States' debut is, as the title suggests, an exploration of exile and frustration of paradise just beyond reach. Elliott's scratchy voice rolls like a more soulful M. Ward, but his easy barrage of lyrical contortions evokes Andrew Bird's songbook, rhymes and alliteration unfolding in effortless streams ("Slow crows over a gold October, you're sitting getting colder as Van Gogh sobers"). Highlight and opener "First Sight" consciously cops Postal Service pulse, but Elliott's emotion lies in the shading dodge that dances ever on the periphery of his poeticism. "The Business" works horns and garagey surf-rock against the acoustic ache of "Diving Boards Pointed at the Sky," while "Burn This Bridge" kindles a choral swell uplifting in its refusal to regret. Yet Elliott's mortality-driven vision remains ever-elusive, or, as he scats on "Jenni Anne," "Here's the plan: There is no plan."

By Doug Freeman - The Austin Chronicle

"Village Voice -- PICTURE Album Review"

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.

By Tony Sclafani - The Village Voice

"ACE UK -- CRIMES Album Review"

ACE rating 9/10

These United States are a band that has formed around main man Jessie Elliott, a man whose lyrics read like the kind of poetry Dylan would love to pen, and whose musical brain has a thousand corners. Following up the phenomenal debut A Picture Of The Three Of Us At The Gate to the Garden of Eden, Crimes is a change in direction. And what a change. Crimes is The Basement Tapes brought right up to date - in song quality, instrumentation and overall feel, Elliot nails the enormous vibe. It is hard not to believe that Richard Manuel, Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm and Rick Danko were in the studio for this one when Get Yourself Home or Six Fast Bullets kick in. The Basement Tapes with M Ward fronting (which may be an improvement if you're not a Dylan fan). In truth, Elliott wastes Ward for talent - We Go Down To That Corner is a stunning song, a modern blues parable. Crimes is a step forward and sideways for These United States - a grandiose communal statement, and it is a genuine pleasure to listen to from start to finish. Album of the week.

By Mike Rea - Adult Contemporary Essentials

"Paste Magazine -- CRIMES Album Review"

Paste Rating: 85

Psych-folkers’ Crimes worth committing to

Crimes begins labyrinthine and grandiose, shoving Cain, Dionysius, Don Quixote and Chief Logan into the first two minutes of cataloging opener “West Won.” But where digressive hyper-reference pulled some punch from These United States’ debut, A Picture of the Three of Us At the Gate to the Garden of Eden, helmsman Jesse Elliott cites with a surgeon’s precision in his second go-round. The 12-song cycle coils around itself in tales that rage and lull in turns, Elliott charting thieves’ honor, murderous worlds, science, space, salvation and sin in a brittle croon. For having such heavy themes, Crimes’ shuffling feel is an impressive achievement, indicative of the finicky alloy the band managed to forge here. Steady-on folk songwriting has matured to include full-bodied, rise-and-fall structures and call-and-response choruses, while a jangling sheath of electric psychedelics and babbling piano lines—contributed by a cast of D.C. players (now not just debut-collaborator David Strackany)—marks this compendium as a rousing, communal affair befitting its epic and twisted ambition.

By Henry Freedland - Paste Magazine

"NPR's All Things Considered -- PROFILE"

The Washington, D.C., band These United States writes novelistic songs packed with dense narratives and loose, ragged-edged folk, rock and Americana.

Jesse Elliott, the band's lead singer and songwriter, serves as These United States' main creative foundation, yet the band is known to rotate in any number of musicians it picks up along the way. Performing on their most recent tour as a stripped-down trio, Elliott, Tom Hnatow and Robby Cosenza discussed their new album, Crimes, and performed songs from the studios of Minnesota Public Radio.

Crimes follows the album A Picture of the Three of Us at the Gate to the Garden of Eden, which was only just released in March. Elliott says the band had caught some flak for using too many words in its previous title.

"We decided we'd shorten the title of the second album," Elliott says, "and then pack twice as many words inside of the album itself."

Elliott says that These United States, as a music project, has been around for a few years. He originally formed the group with David Strackany — a singer-songwriter who also records under the name Paleo — and they recorded the first album together. But by the time the disc came out, Elliott had already begun to perform shows with a band consisting of Hnatow, Cosenza and a large revolving cast of musicians and friends.

"The genesis of the band is one that's strange and twisted," Elliott says. "We decided to make a second album right away because we had a lot more material that we wanted to work on. I think a lot of what you're influenced by at any one particular point in time is maybe dictated by the other people that you're with. I almost felt myself influenced by different things when I was with David Strackany, as opposed to all these hoodlums."

Both albums are rife with classic American references, including everything from Custer and Johnny Appleseed to Jesse James, Mark Twain and Tecumseh. Elliott credits his academic studies.

"There's a lot going on," Elliott says. "We have certainly caught much flak for the amount of words and characters that appear in our music. For me, personally, as far as the writing process goes, it's a way of coping with the serious amount of information that exists in the world these days. Stitching it together in some big, chaotic patchwork is kind of how I make sense of all the pieces that are flying our way and everyone's way every day."

Elliott says that most of his writing process stems from his interest in the English language and his desire to create narrative arcs from that.

"I'm a big fan of aesthetics," Elliott says, "of just the way words sound, the way that phrases string together, the way that we use language. Some of it is personal and developing stories from that, but a lot of it is just finding words and hearing things in the world and smashing them together in a particle accelerator and seeing what comes out on the other end."

Interview and Story by Jackie Lyden
Aired November 8, 2008 - National Public Radio

"JamBase -- LIVE Review"

Barack n' Roll with: John Doe, These United States & Big Light
10.15.08 :: The Independent :: San Francisco, CA

...Last but far from least, These United States arrived with the rush of old Beatles, summoning up the kooky energy of the Fabs in suits being chased by packs of fans in the London streets. Such is the wild, charismatic energy of opener "Get Yourself Home (In Search of the Mistress Whose Kisses Are Famous)" and the band themselves. Already smitten with their new album, Crimes (see JamBase's review here), it was immediately obvious they carry their windmill tilting, discourse elevating mojo very well into the live setting. By the second tune, they sounded like Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited band if they'd been left along the side of that asphalt desert, forced to eke out a meager, mean existence banging away in a clapboard dive where the rejected gather and drink away their dreams while the band plays behind chicken wire with undiminished gusto, doing some good while stuck inside of Mobile or Lodi or whatever backwater has seized them. Full of off-mic exhortations and great physicality, These United States answered the talk storm by plowing ahead with knowing grins and grit.

Lead singer-acoustic guitarist Jesse Elliott has a great but none too careful voice reminiscent of Patti Smith's shaman '70s, kicking against the pricks with bite and nifty falsetto. The vocal oomph is further generated by stunning drummer Robby Cosenza, who adds some bark to the backdrop, and McCartney-esque bassist Mark Charles, who recalls Macca in both his sweet harmonies and permeating, un-showy four string work. Weaving and bobbing amongst these three was sinewy, ever-tasty guitarist and pedal steel player Tom Hnatow, who may not have had a mic but sang along just the same. These four really listen to each other, pulling back and diving in tidal grace - a gravity felt, all the space and distance and daydreaming inside their marvelous tunes hitting with visceral kick. Their compositional reach and profound dynamics recalls The Weather Underground, but where those L.A. boys go for loft and epic scale in their builds, TUS invites us into their bosom, giving us space under their wings, the whispers and shouts used to lure us closer, the lyrics like super strings tying big things together in pretty knots.

"We're called These United States. What do you guys call yourselves?" inquired Elliott, just before noticing the Obama slide behind the other acts had disappeared. "Where did our fifth member go? I can't believe Barack Obama would leave. Oh, there's another one of him [pointing at one of the many images of the Senator around the room]. That's the good things about him – he contains multitudes."

Singing about "pleasure and pain and pride and me," TUS echo but don't imitate the freewheeling vibe of early Steve Miller Band and Badfinger infused with the manic feel and too much information onslaught of our times. Watching them, I felt energy pumped into my limbs, and often found myself unable to resist leaping into the air, shouting along and waving my arms like some great ape, which matched up nicely with Elliot's own hopping and twitching and the swaying chug of the others. With jangle and "slow, sad bastard" songs, These United States offered us semi-apocalyptic reveries that ultimately had the long haulers dancing like a Jewish wedding reception, while TUS rosin'd up their bows as the flames rose higher and higher. Tapping into the primacy of "Not Fade Away" and Rolling Thunder Revue Bob-osity, TUS run a pipeline to rock's ancient core and splash us with something capable of unleashing the unbound, even slightly stupid energy of the genre's early days, before Presley got jumpsuits and the word "business" wasn't superglued to "music." With one show they've secured my love.

Outside, moving along the sidewalk towards home, I found myself thinking about America. We are a nation founded by dissenters and intellectually and religiously curious people. Our resistance to being told what is the right way and what the wrong is ingrained. Those who would order others around, dictate universal guidelines and demand compliance – even in the face of failure and facts – may find that our rebel spirit - our birthright as Americans from the founding fathers (and mothers) they so frequently invoke - may be the last thing they pry from our cold, dead fingers, more powerful than any bullet in the long haul. And that's what we're in for – the long haul – but I left this gathering feeling like I won't be walking there alone.

We've got a way of taking all the roads but golden, and still somehow breaking day
We're staying sane, and one more turn should be OK
See, if you're striving to illuminate the night you might as well use every lane

Yes, if the thing that drives you onward is your heart
Then you must not let that engine die

(from These United States' "When You're Traveling At The Speed of Light")

Words by: Dennis Cook
Images by: Peter Ellenby - JamBase

"You Ain't No Picasso -- LIVE Review"

These United States @ Al’s Bar 9.20.08

It feels a bit absurd to call a small band like These United States a “supergroup,” but that’s what it felt like on Saturday night.

These United States are currently four guys that come from three of the best Lexington-related bands. Jesse writes the These United States songs, Mark plays as Vandaveer, and Robbie and Justin are two-thirds of Scourge of the Sea (and 100% of Fanged Robot). So if you’re from Lexington, this is almost as much of a supergroup as the New Pornographers or Broken Social Scene. And even though they might not have a fraction of those bands’ fame, to judge solely on Saturday’s performance, they’ve already started playing with a level of energy that suggests that nobody bothered to tell them.

I’ve only had These United States’ new album Crimes for about a week, but I’ve already listened to it about a half dozen times through. I really feel that it’s a phenomenal record and their show at Al’s only drove that home more. Each song I loved on the record, I really loved at the show. The album-opening “West Won” in particular sounded fantastic; the song is perfectly structured to give Jesse room to really use his voice and Robbie a chance to use his drums as an instrument rather than something to just bash.

I do have to point out the only bad thing about These United States’ show at Al’s: they didn’t play my favorite song on the record. Without giving too much away, there’s a spot reserved on my year’s end list of best songs for “Honor Amongst Thieves.” But it didn’t find itself in the set list because they had to play a quick show (there were two bands on after them apparently?). I wasn’t alone in my unfounded grumpiness, though; there was a table of girls who asked Jesse after the show why they left it out. Oh well, hopefully they learned their lesson: when you write a fantastically great song, keep it in the set list.

But yes, the show was great. The band was goofy, but great. To close, they played “When You’re Traveling At the Speed of Light,” which is one of the best songs on Crimes and its closer as well. The song ends with a capella repeats of the closing phrase “If the thing that drives you onward is your heart, you must not let that engine die.”

Jesse, Mark and Justin took to the one microphone to repeat the closing line, but then found it hilarious to take the mic over to the drum and dangle it above Robbie’s head. That didn’t so much inspire more singing from him, but rather got them all laughing too hard to continue. Strangely, that lead to one of the best moments of the show. Everyone in the bar that either already had their copy of Crimes or was just fast on picking up lyrics started loudly singing the last line for them.

By Matt Jordan - You Ain't No PIcasso

"Crawdaddy -- PROFILE"

These United States: DC Band Rocks for Change

The PA at Brooklyn’s Union Hall blasts the opening chords of Led Zeppelin’s anthemic “Good Times, Bad Times”, turning the heads of the cosmotini-drinking office party strays that have wandered downstairs from their bocce tournament. At the front of the room, obscured by the crowd, some member of Washington, DC’s These United States noodles along to Jimmy Page's riffs on his guitar, eliciting chuckles from a few of the attendees at the foot of the stage—those who, unlike the after-work crowd, came for the band.

Gradually, the back of the room excuses the diversion and resumes talking, but minds are about to be changed. As if responding to the boozy giocatori’s implicit need to rock, the band promptly unleashes a brash rush of crunchy countrified blues, flanked by a genial pedal steel and a beat that’s as steady and powerful as—I cannot resist the simile—that ol’ steam train. Again, heads turn, and not surprisingly, stay turned.

The blues-rock blast that gripped the crowd at Union Hall might be equally shocking for anyone who heard and enjoyed These United States’ debut, A Picture of the Three of Us at the Gate to the Garden of Eden, released just eight months ago. The band’s new album, Crimes, released October 7th on United Interests Records, exorcises the trembling bedroom psychedelia of A Picture, revealing driven, bluesy folk that rambles the length of Highway 61. As their shift in direction signals this election season, These United States has change on its mind.

“These United States has been an experiment in eclecticism from the beginning,” says singer/guitarist Jesse Elliott. “We always married different sounds live than recorded, and this new one is, in a strange way, more faithful to the sound that These United States has had at its core—its dark, dirty underbelly—from the beginning."

Shedding the introverted leanings of its predecessor, Crimes stretches out like a broad canvas painted with the intricate souls of Elliott and company’s cadre of outlaw romantics. The cast is wide, colorful, and even folkloric in scope—evocations of the Wild West, pirates, and late night shenanigans saddle up next to images of a bizarre love triangle between Sam Clemens, Little John, and a seductress named Lucy.

Often, Elliott’s tall tales conjure crimes of the heart, rather than delving strictly into the world of the cold-blooded and hard-nosed criminal. Still, there are implications of the misdeeds of governments, and of people in general—“this murderous world,” as Elliott puts it in the preamble to “Those Low Country Girls.” But rather than play judge, jury, and executioner, These United States ekes charm from fault, and leaves ample room for self-examination, and through it, redemption.

Elliott might play the poetic prince of thieves, but doesn’t hesitate to point the finger inward: “We see the same shameful sights that we see inside ourselves / There is a whole list of lies that even time won’t tell / Sins of omission, sins of pride.” But even if, as Elliott says, “We're all criminals at heart,” his songs suggest that while we may be guilty, we’re not all bad; character is shown in how we rectify—or fail to rectify—our wrongs. Most of the time, it’s easier said than done, but sometimes it’s as easy as one bastard buying another bastard a beer.

“It's themes on a variation, human nature, that we're getting at,” Elliott says. “This country is nothing if that of a mutating beast—good, bad, ugly, modern, antiquated. We're just trying to put our big fat arms around it all, politics, daily life, and all the rest.”

For all their Crimes, These United States can be sure that they’ve enacted some positive change of their own. The Washington, DC music scene, once epicenter of the disparate genres of go-go funk and hardcore punk, has been given new life of late thanks to an artist collective that the band helped found. Launched by These United States, Vandaveer, and Kitty Hawk in late 2005 (or early 2006, depending on who you ask), the Federal Reserve collective soon grew to include a constellation of local member bands whose stars align for a show on the first Monday of every month.

“[We were] just sad, insecure, drifting dreamers looking for a place to call home, the usual roots of family, for better and worse,” Elliott says, “We all get drunk and play on each other’s songs at our monthly show. Those two things help us live life.”

Art collectives in the Capital Region (or points thereabout) might immediately recall thoughts of DC’s wilder cousin, Baltimore, and its Wham City collective. Although less than 40 highway miles away, the two scenes are as different as the cities that spurred them. While DC’s colors may be subdued compared to fluorescent Baltimore, Elliott maintains that his scene is nonetheless strong.

“I don't know a ton about Baltimore, and I These United States: Photo by Ajay Malghandon't think Baltimore knows a ton about us. I like what I hear—it's certainly more experimental, more [artsy], more crowd-participatory, funky as shit, and so on. DC’s a little more straight-laced maybe, shoots more for a bobbing head or two, something to communicate with your average music-goer,” Elliott says. “Ne'er the twain shall meet, which makes us all a little sad, at least on this side of the great divide. Then again… [if] someday there's a cold fusion of DC and Baltimore, it will blow the world apart.”

Excuse the Bush-ism, but for the moment, Elliott is happy to be a uniter, not a divider. Given the tough times that face us now, perhaps boisterous blues is a more accessible sound for addressing grievances and getting a message—of change, and of personal/national redress—across to those that might normally shy away from the likes of a band of wily indie rockers. In fact, the band recently played a date in San Francisco at a rally for Senator Obama. If they can move Joe Sixpacks and Hockey Moms the same way they wooed the yuppies at Union Hall, These United States might be just the band for our times.

“[If we ran for president] ‘Yes’ would be the answer to every question,” Elliott says, “Can I have a house? Yes. Can I have a gun? Yes. Can I ask that my neighbor not shoot me? Yes. Can I tell you about this crazy dream I had—tell everyone, actually, on national television? Of course, you can, yes… Yes, we can make that happen.”

By Andres Jauregui
Photo by Shervin Lainez - Crawdaddy

"Wired -- CRIMES and VIDEO Review"

These United States Mine Public Domain Gold

Mashed into the ragged, revisionist matrix of The White Stripes, Andrew Bird and even his old band Squirrel Nut Zippers, These United States possess the gift for making yesteryear's folk, rock and pop sonics skew new. The brainchild of band leader Jesse Elliott, the eclectic septet's sophomore effort Crimes, drops Tuesday, and it is easily one of the grooviest efforts of 2008. Even though it sounds like it was made in 1968.

Or further back, taking a quick peek at the band's video for "Get Yourself Home," which smoothly juxtaposes its arch, dark humor with pieces from over 40 public domain propaganda reels, verite shorts and other Americana from the Prelinger Archives. Indie director Jared Varava felt the free, found viz was a perfect fit for Elliott's great depressions.

"From the main character, who comes from a 1930s propaganda film about the importance of workers' unions, to the passing scenes of carnivals, cabarets and the great wild West," Varava explained on the video's iLike page, "all come together to evoke the contrasting emotions, environments, sins, schemes, devils and delusions that bind us on These United States' newest release."

If you like what you hear, and see, catch the band's neo-Revue on the road starting Saturday in Kentucky.

By Scott Thill
September 2008 - Wired

"Alternative Press -- PICTURE Album Review"

AP Rating: 4/5

A Washington, D.C.-based singer/songwriter described as a "gonzo-journalist-turned-troubador," Jesse Elliott is destined for indie-rock deity status. Mark our words. We see a lofty Metacritic rating, collabs with Devendra Banhart and numerous Bob Dylan (or at least Bright Eyes) comparisons on his horizon.

On These United States' debut, Elliott sets his journalist's eye for concise, evocative storytelling amid memorable, moving melodies that seem to slip out of his mind like sighs of relief and resignation. He possesses an appealingly fragile voice, like a suppler Neil Young or a less cosmic version of Wooden Wand's James Jackson Toth. Elliott's buckskin tone induces instant empathy, and his lyrics rivet with their poetic nuance.

The result is a beautiful collection of understated, orchestral roots rock that will enrapture both NPR and Pitchfork devotees. Let the label bidding war commence!

By Dave Segal - Alternative Press


A Picture of the Three of Us at the Gate to the Garden of Eden (United Interests), LP, March 2008.

Crimes (United Interests), LP, September 2008.

Everything Touches Everything (United Interests), LP, September 2009.



Washington DC- and Lexington KY-based psych-folk rock-and-rollers These United States - a mix of Andrew Bird, The Band, and Calexico - released their debut, A Picture of the Three of Us at the Gate to the Garden of Eden (United Interests), in March 2008. They followed it up in September with their sophomore album, Crimes.

Receiving massive advance praise on their third album, DC-Kentucky- psych-folk-lit-pop rockers These United States are rumbling surely towards the next benchmark in a long string of critical acclaim, including the highest debut on CMJ in its first week peaking at #18, 8 out of 10 stars in Spin and Three Imaginary Girls, several Best of 2008 mentions and even a Best of 2009, and features on NPR's "All Things Considered," Spin, Paste, Filter, Village Voice, Brooklyn Vegan, Daytrotter, My Old Kentucky Blog, The Onion, Jambase, KEXP, WOXY, KEXP, KCRW, and WXPN.

With their third full length release and 300th show in 18 months, These United States surrender themselves to unbridled rock and roll exuberance: ringing guitars, thundering drums, desperate yearning bordering on hope. Everything Touches Everything came together the week of January 20th, 2009, as 4 million new friends descended on the city of Washington, DC (one of two places, with Lexington, KY, the band calls home). Laughter, belief, chaos, history, frigid cold wild mercury winter morning sunshine - it was a good place to be making music. And they're celebrating the only way they know how, launching a national tour with two album release shows in NYC Friday and Saturday, and one in the album's birthing grounds of Washington, D.C. on Sunday.

By turns larger-than-life and disarmingly intimate, this is 42 minutes of folk in the truest sense - a record of the moment, of the cultural and emotional forces that animate everyday existence somewhere down below the headlines. (But never apart from them. Bandleader Jesse Elliott had two different albums in mind; he let the November election decide which one the group would record.) And These United States -- Elliott, Robby Cosenza, J. Tom Hnatow, Justin Craig, and Colin Kellogg -- play it the way folk was meant to be played: hard, fast, big, slow, long, loud, loose, at last unburdened. They play like they mean it. Like there's never been a better time to be alive.