Pluck You

Posted November 19, 2009 in Music

The first 45 seconds of Old Canes’ latest album, Feral Harmonic (released last month on Saddle Creek Records), start off the way every good acoustic solo project should. Organic pings and plucks of a hollow body guitar echo a delicate, repetitive three-note melody. Cautiously, a snare drum rolls in. For a moment, all is peaceful, introspective and safe. 

Then, chaos erupts.

A second later, you find yourself ducking inside a roaring cave of sound surrounded by blaring horns, sloppy distortion, rumbling floor toms, sleigh bells and the triumphant chimes of a toy piano. It’s the kind of folk album that the band’s bearded creator Chris Crisci (also the front man of moody shoegazers The Appleseed Cast) says he was destined to make.

“I’ve always liked intense music,” says Crisci, now 37 years old, who began his fiery acoustic side project unofficially between 2001 and 2002. “I wouldn’t want to record another folk, guy-with-a guitar, boring record . . . I want the beats, I want the chaos and the noise and all that stuff.” Old Canes evolved out of a few original acoustic songs Crisci played at a record store performance in Europe while on tour with The Appleseed Cast.

Of course, his wild layers of sound don’t come without substance. The three-year period between 2006 and 2009—when the album was sporadically written and recorded in a basement studio at Crisci’s home in Lawrence, Kansas (known as the Toy Shop)—provided plenty of inspiration. The songs on Old Canes’ new album carry an audacious sense of hope and courage inspired by Crisci’s personal ups and downs with record labels, financial strain, touring and the general aches and pains of a career musician committed to forging his own sounds.

“The album is about not letting fear control the decisions I make in my life,” says Crisci. “But there’s a whole bunch of different dimensions to it. I have a family, I have two kids and I’m responsible for their happiness as well. There’s some of that in [the album].”

Courage also allows him to barrel into an eclectic stable of sounds while maintaining all the thrust of a punk song. Enlisting the help of friends from bands like Hospital Ships, White Whale, Minus Story and The Appleseed Cast, Crisci steps up the efforts to outshine his solid 2004 debut Early Morning Hymns. Songs like “Sweet” and “Stuck” incorporate sprawling jams and theatrical harmonies over Crisci’s sincere, lo-fi vocal performances, giving Feral Harmonic a kind of untethered creativity and power that acoustic music isn’t usually known for.

“I did try to kind of break out of convention I guess, or break out of what I would normally do,” says Crisci.

Besides changing up the music, the new album also offered Crisci a chance to find a new label. After an ill-fated 2004 stint touring in support of Early Morning Hymns left him in debt to his previous label (Second Nature Recordings), Crisci decided it was time to find a new home for Old Canes. In late 2008 he approached Nebraska’s indie goldmine Saddle Creek (home of Cursive and Bright Eyes). After a brief discussion with their execs, Crisci joined the label. It was a move he was glad to make.

“I’ve worked with four labels in my life and no one comes close to being as supportive and just downright trusting,” says Crisci who exercised creative control over the album. His new partnership with Saddle Creek turned out to be the catalyst (or maybe the cattle prod) that got him to finish recording. With the album finally released, the scruffy San Diego native embarks on a month-long West Coast —and parts of the Midwest—tour. Even after two albums built from a string of songs that began almost 10 years ago, Crisci believes that his journey with Old Canes is just beginning.

“I want to do at least three records but hopefully more than that. It’s the most fun I’ve had playing music in years, so that’s what it’s all about for me.”

Old Canes w/Elegant Bachelor, Wallets and Wells, Resa and Max and the Moon at The Wire Music & Art Venue, 247 N. 2nd St., Upland, (909) 985-9466;, Sat, Nov. 21, 7PM. $10 advance, $12 door. All ages.


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