When Syphax first emailed the Linescratchers’ author list about Haun’s Mill, I was instantly intrigued:
… an awesome group from Texas called Haun’s Mill (formerly Haun’s Mill Massacre). They do old-timey music but it’s more of a Southern Gothic-type thing, and their stage show includes weird and admittedly creepy projector movies. A lot of their lyrics deal with old dark times, like the Spanish Influenza epidemic or the Great Depression, etc.
I immediately replied that they sounded awesome—like someone had tapped into my id and found the music it secretly wanted. An hour and fifteen minutes later, he wrote back to say he might be able to get an album sent to me. It was too late because I had already bought it. My id would not be denied!
I knew this could go either way. It could be my fate to love this band because, really, how could I not like a gothfolkMormoncreepoöldtimey band? Or it could be that, with my expectations running so high, even the greatest gothfolkMormoncreepoöldtimey band ever to play Kolob could not live up to what I envisioned.
It’s now two and a half months since I wrote that introduction and, as with so many things, the correct answer was something in the middle.
On first listen, the only song I found truly compelling was the one they must have known was single-worthy because there’s a video:
Despite that, I burned a copy, threw it in the car, and we listened to it on endless loop for a week or so (which included a drive to Yosemite). Familiarity built appreciation. For our first few days in Yosemite, we couldn’t stop singing the chorus of “New York City.” I couldn’t even remember all the words. It is the worst when you can’t stop singing a song but have no idea what the dang words are. This happens to me a lot. I’m terrible with lyrics.
Moving on. It’s no secret that I like listening to the ladies. So of course I prefer when Eliza Wren takes lead vocals. Her voice has a certain charm. It’s a woman’s voice, make no mistake, but it retains a certain girlishness that’s terribly appealing. I wouldn’t have you thinking she’s got a PiPi Band vibe happening , but at the risk of sounding like a oenophile, Eliza’s voice has a nose consisting of innocence, darkness, openness, joy, charm, youthful exuberance, and a knife behind the back, with a lingering wild blackberry finish. All with a strong aroma of folk undercurrents.
On the other hand, Nord Anderson, besides having the immediate disadvantage of being a man, has one of those rasps that I’ve never really taken to. After listening to the album a dozen times, I have become accustomed to it and think the songs are great, but I still doubt I would buy his solo album. (I also don’t buy solo albums from Bob Dylan, Neil Young or Tom Waits. So I imagine Nord will get over this slight.)
And so, in the end, my review can be summed up like this:
TERRIFIC ALBUM!!!! (This is the part to quote and stick on the album cover, though I’m skeptical that a sticker would adhere to the handsewn-and-printed fabric case.)
But back to my initial impressions and Syphax’s original description, I must admit to a bit of disappointment. I have never once felt a particularly dark, creepy, or unsettling vibe from the music. Not anything like The Decemberists sometimes give or fellow Linescratcher Samson Y Hiss (check out my favorite of his zombie songs). So that’s a bummer. Yes, the instrumental ending of “Forsaken” moves in a Carnival of Souls direction, but it doesn’t push hard enough for my taste.
Then again. It takes me years of listening to get lyrics down. Maybe that song about the Spanish Influenza will suddenly sink in and chill me to the bone in 2018.
Because I’m quite sure I’ll still be listening to this album in 2018.
Assuming some new influenza hasn’t killed us all.
P.S. On a personal note, I hope Nord gets over me comparing him to Dylan because if he and Eliza ever do a show in Berkeley or San Francisco, I want them over for dinner.
P.P.S. Don’t miss Syphax’s interview with Haun’s Mill here.