Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
The four minutes and thirty seconds of the O'Brother song "Lay Down," from the band's forthcoming full-length debut album, "Garden Window," is a beautifully skinned little creature. There's no hiding for it. It's a shivery beast that's either haunting or being haunted. It's a bit hard to know for sure, as it feels a little bit of both. It feels like we're out in the middle of a dream, one of those cold dreams that you awake from in the morning and you fail to shake it off. You're unable to get the very tangible feeling of it out of your mind. You're stuck with it, reverberating and beating around your chest and through your veins, without the ability to end its work on you. People stop you in the streets or in the hallways and ask you if anything's wrong. You mutter to them that you're fine, that you're just tired, that you didn't sleep well and that you just had the strangest dream and it's getting to you. It's affecting your appetite and your complexion. The Atlanta, Georgia band's lead singer, Tanner Merritt, makes sure that we won't soon be able to forget the temperature of this song, and really anything on the excellent record that really shows this young group quickly coming into its own as an American band definitely worth keeping an eye on.
Merritt sings, "Keep your tired hands to the ground/Cause blood feeds the dirt to which you're bound/And I lay down," and it seems at once that we're going to see the or a headless horseman gallop through the scene. It's as if we're on the grounds of a Civil War graveyard, the individual markers for the soldiers who were felled in battle, to bleed out under peach trees, in fields and in ponds, turning the water red with former life, all in the name of freedom and patriotism, identically white and made of the same hard stone. There's a thick fog weaving between the packed together sites and we're the only ones there, taking it all in as the crows watch from the trees on the sidelines. It's like we've been granted access to some enchanted garden or place of rest where we're liable to see just about anyone living or dead. We don't feel that we're in any kind of harm, but we don't feel right either and so we stay alert and we try to remain calm. O'Brother helps immensely with that, making sure that we have these anthemic and sweeping songs of introspection and dusky wooziness to lean against, to cushion us. They keep us hovering, feeling as if we remain in harm's way, but we feel safe at the same time, the same way we feel when we're walking through a dream and we damn well know we are, thought we can still be on edge and we can still get those white knuckles. O'Brother is white knuckles. They are the resolve rattling music makers who keep you wondering what's going to happen next to spill your heart or just freeze it in fear.