Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
We were talking about it here the other day around the studio, or maybe it was on the phone with a radio man in Louisville, Kentucky, yes, that must have been it. What we were talking about was how it was just a few years ago that it became perfectly acceptable, actually cool as hell, for dudes to sing prettily with other dudes again. We'd come full circle, into a day and age when, once again, shaggy dudes could share microphones and give us the kinds of multi-part harmonies that have always been beautiful, just not always popular. No longer would the towels get snapped if two fellows were getting together to make music with their voices and not just loud guitars, amps and drums.
We've been gifted, over the last five years, with so many groups of guys who know their ways around the kinds of hooks that remind us of honey and ecstasy. When we hear these groups of guys sing, even the straight dudes out here, know a little about what all those swooning girls out there are thinking and feeling. They sweep you up and they place you in a different state of well-being. While girls might be dreaming of getting more comfortable and what it could be like to be the fox at the ends of their arms and hands, us fellows feel something a bit different. Luckily, we've lately had the work of people like Justin Vernon, the Avett Brothers and Fleet Foxes to listen to and the places that they let us travel to are gorgeous, but manly still.
These are guys who have rugged beards and dress like they've just slipped from the mountains or out the back doors to the Ryman, out here just being as natural as they can be. They look like they raise chickens and they appear to shoot and smoke their own meat. They love their mommas and their daddies and they read Hemingway and like to dig into books about Native American history and accounts of the Civil War whenever they have a free moment. They don't pay attention to what's happening on television because nothing's as interesting as the deer and the wild turkeys that are tramping around in their backyards. These are they kinds of dudes that are singing together these days, back to the time when CSNY and the Grateful Dead were doing it for the dirty-finger-nailed-sect for the first time, way back when.
Seattle's Ivan & Alyosha gives us another group of fellows singing together and it's quite the display. Lead singer Tim Wilson and his gang of assistants - Ryan Carbary, Pete Wilson and Tim Kim - make an inspired, lush sound that's as if we were hearing lights, sensing the good feelings of a thousand birds flying. They sing about the unbendable and the unbearable kind of love that some people are lucky enough to find in their lives. It's the sort of love that makes you both weaker and stronger at the same time. Tim Wilson sings, "If the sky should fall/And the morning birds not call/Well you must know/How I love you so," just needing to say it, as if he likely hasn't reiterated the point ad infinitum. He's not lacking in the exposing, just hoping for the reciprocation. The theme of plenty of Ivan & Alyosha songs comes down to a man knowing his place, knowing that he's just a guy and the one that he's holding and kissing is ten times better and they should know it. There's no taking women for granted, just giving them all the credit they deserve. He sings, "Wouldn't find one who would disagree/Standing beside every decent man, there's a better woman," on "Everything Is Burning," and he sounds proud to say it. And he will keep saying it, singing it alongside these dudes that he's found. They complete him.
*Essay originally published November, 2011