Review: Giant Sand “Heartbreak Pass”


giantsand-heartbreakpassLike a wind in the desert, the music of Giant Sand is there, and then it’s gone. Try to catch it, and you’ll end up with a fistful of… sand. Giant Sand is largely the product of the eccentric musical explorations of Howie Gelb, and it’s incredible to consider that he has kept this alt-country/indie/”erosion rock” project going for more than 30 years.

Good heavens, in 1985 there wasn’t even any such thing as “alt-country” or “indie”. Gelb really needs to be considered as one of the great pioneers of both movements.

The band has morphed from shape to shape, at one point splitting off to form the band Calexico, at another point Gelb completely re-creating the band in Denmark with all Danish musicians, calling it Giant Giant Sand. I guess if you can’t bring Denmark to the desert, you bring the desert to Denmark.

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If you haven’t heard much of Giant Sand’s music, this new album would be a good place to start. It combines the indie rock of their earliest work with the dry desert alt-folk and odd piano lounge musings of their most recent material.

Gelb himself says the album consists of “3 volumes of 15 songs here representing living 2 lives for 30 years. Don’t do the math. It doesn’t figure.” The first part of the album root-rocks along nicely, and the lead single “Transponder” features Jason Lytle of Grandaddy, which is evident through the good-time spacey distortion and big choruses we remember from that late lamented outfit.

Giant Sand – Transponder

The middle part of the album has a more Tex-Mex flavor with Mariachi horns and Spanish guitars, as Gelb explores the album’s themes of dislocation and yearning for home. On “Home Sweat Home” Gelb sings:

Get that terminal feeling

And they upgrade me to seat 2 B

For too many miles flown

But 2 B or not 2 B, ain’t home

The album’s last third has a more introspective feel, including a piano instrumental and a song called “Forever and Always”, co-written and sung by Gelb’s 12-year-old daughter. Taken all together, Heartbreak Pass covers a lot of ground in Gelb’s distinctive, inscrutable way. This is an album for sitting by the water with a cold Margarita in the hot sun.

Release Date: May 5, 2015

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