California Duo New Bums Takes a Trip to the Blues Side with ‘Last Time I Saw Grace’


The latest record from California duo New Bums, Last Time I Saw Grace, adopts darkened acoustics behind terse, timely lyrics.

Genially dubbed “Old Drunk America” by their record label, Drag City, and a supergroup in essence, Ben Chasny and Donovan Quinn conceived Last Time I Saw Grace as the duo’s second exploration of their psych-folk niche since their 2014 full-length debut, Voices in a Rented Room. The duo has certainly lent itself to the bluesier side of an already alternative cranny they occupy; the project is laden with swinging slide licks (see: “Billy God Damn”) and bluntly observational phraseology.

The record holds best when examined in the context of both Chasny and Quinn’s conflicting inclinations. Within their New Bums group, neither is confined to the more rigid roles they occupy in their other projects, Six Organs of Admittance and Skygreen Leopards respectively. Each take up vocals, which melt into each other luxuriously throughout the record in vastly collaborative songwriting, and an array of instrumentals, while honing each of their independently impressive guitar ingenue.

What may risk turning into a dump-pile for the musicians’ second-tier leftovers, especially as each of their other projects have gained wide acceptance in independent arenas, is avoided with meticulous dexterity by the fullness of each track; the songs are fleshed out, not lingering half-lives of hazy ideas, and the record manages an apt cohesiveness despite its foggy, unassuming appeal. Last Time I Saw Grace maintains a vein of bucolic folk balladry hardened by a vaguely psychedelic edge and demure cynicism. 

In fact, to refer to the duo as “acid-folk” would be inadequate in harnessing the foremost dynamics between each musicians’, in some cases, dissonant tendencies. Simply merging the respective genres of their previous work risks suggesting that the duo is applying their skill sets in isolated manners, but this isn’t the case; this album is the result of fastidious alchemy and collaboration.

New Bums is not simply a melding of preconceived knowledge, ideas, and habits, but a coalescence of widely drawn inspiration. The duo are neither hiding behind delegations of the roots canon nor the experimentalism of psychedelic rock, instead favoring all above in addition to embracement of other corners of the musical landscape (the record features sprawling guitar solos — see: “Obliteration Time” — alongside earnestly devised ambulation).

A holistic aural strain emerging from vast influence makes what would be expected to be a beautiful record, that and an intriguing listen.