In this day and age, anything described as a “psych-folk collective” can easily divide music listeners into two camps: those who salivate at the term, and those who shudder at the thought. On their debut album, These United States are happy to appease both camps — perhaps because they have made the tag more accessible, but more likely because it does little justice to the group's actual sound.
Prior to releasing A Picture, These United States clocked over 300 live shows; co-founder and instrumentalist David Strackany was also responsible for the Song Diary, a 365-songs-in-365-days project. The result is a set of well-honed, layered songs. At the outset, these are simple, vocal-driven numbers, but they share intrinsic sound collages that weave the songs together and keep them in your mind.
Frontman Jesse Elliott has a voice meant for the kind of songs he sings; like Okkervil River's Will Scheff or Destroyer's Dan Bejar, his inflections prove to be instruments in themselves. From the quiet and understated beginnings of “Preface: Painless” rolling into the giddy electronic twee of “First Sight”, this album proves irrestistible and more rewarding with each listen. Full of the things that often translate to overkill — cello, accordon, synths, glockenspiel, and a load of enthusiasm — A Picture somehow manages to keep an integral simplicity throughout.
“I got a big brand new Cadillac of a plan,” announces singer Jesse Elliott on the aptly-titled “The Business”. If “The Business” translates to the business of music, then this record is certainly a Cadillac of a plan: Well thought out and well executed, A Picture is an exciting and refreshing debut.