Bristol is a city that is almost overrun with talented musicians and inspiring gigs, open mics and venues. It’s easy to get lost in the sheer staggering scope of it, when you’re being served up musicianship of this level on the daily you can forget to sit back and actually reflect on just how goddamn lucky you are. We were introduced to the Moncrieff brothers at the open mic Graeme runs at The Three Tuns. After playing our set we sat down outside with Graeme at the end of the night and spoke shop, he told us that he and his brother Ian make their own instruments and have a band Dusk Brothers and they play bluesey, swampy, Americana on their own set up. He thought we might like the sound and gave us a couple calling cards. We’re experimenting with our own take on bluesey riffs with our own band Dead Horse Bay and he provided insight, feedback and encouragement.
Both Ian and Graeme are incredibly humble and friendly, lacking the usual bravado or nonchalant arrogance that you would typically attribute to a rock’n’roll dieties, but when they take to the stage they embody pure and unadulterated power. From the clash of the first strum of their homemade guitars and the heartbeat metronome of their one-man-band percussion machines, leaking through every loop, callback, and chorus; you are transported to a little dive bar in the Louisiana bayou, being assaulted by strobe lighting and the smell of hard liquor, cigarettes, and sweat. They have fully leaned into the theatricality of their live show and in the ilk of performers the like of Tom Waits or Nick Cave they have created characters godlike in proportion, capable of carrying the heavy decibel sound that burrows from the stage and into your very soul.
Having seen them live and knowing how well their sound does in that environment there was a small amount of trepidation going into reviewing this EP. How could something so utterly guttural and almost grotesquely thick when experienced pure and in the flesh possibly be transferred onto and contained upon inanimate objects?
‘Hold On’ wastes no time in setting the mood for the EP. It tippy-toes in on the thigh-slapping slide of the guitars backed by the foot-stomping percussion. Any doubt about the band’s ability to transcend the stage to the studio is dispelled as soon as the vocals hook into the Dusk Brothers signature sound. The lyrics paint a foreboding image of the coming storm, whether that be in the form of the rest of the EP or the True Grit determination that any self-respecting cowboy should hold in his heart at all times, it doesn’t matter; you’re in for a rough ride, this bucking bronco of a band brandish music like a bullwhip.
The second track kicks even harder, ‘The Damage Done’ lyrically and in riff is a complete and utter bar brawl of a track. It starts off with a roar and smashes the chairs and tables of the scene over the listeners head through throaty, growling vocals, all the while the pump of the tambourine and crash of the guitar continue to paint the punches in the background. It has moments of peace and calm, giving you a little breathing room to be serenaded by the gentle harmonica before a building thrum of menace once again takes over and you’re then left abandoned to survey the scene, bloodied and bruised, panting, but on a complete adrenaline high.
Giving that the track left us in the metaphor of a trashed and broken bar, ‘Rum River’ carries on in that theme perfectly. A brutal and unashamed love letter to alcoholism the track lives on the almost jarring, jerky guitar refrain and plays around with more intricate musicianship in the shadows. The lyrics are unapologetically honest and completely in keeping with the sound they are summoning from the instruments. It paints the picture of a bar stool preacher saying goodbye to the drinkery he has called home for too long to find heart in someplace or something new.
The final track ‘Go It Alone’ is the softest on the EP as could and should be expected. This doesn’t stop it having the same power as the others, of course, it is just delivered a little more gently. It ties together the themes and concepts presented throughout the rest of the EP and could be seen lyrically as a sequel to any of the other three. It’s resolute, it’s resonant, it’s resoundingly reassured.
A good EP shows off a bands range, it gives you an idea of the scope of what they can do and Dusk Brothers have put together something truly remarkable in that respect. Every track plays off the last, building into something greater than the sum of its parts. In listening, you can almost see the shamanic twosome stomping away on stage and summoning this surreal and seriously sexy sound. It gives you every bit of the wattage and amperage you would expect from a live show but alongside that, it thrums with its own unique story, an individual and perfectly contained piece that whets the appetite for more but leaves you utterly gorged on what you’ve already consumed. Nobody sounds like these two good ‘ol boys do, their sound is completely their own and I am still left jaw-dropped at the sheer volume and size of the soundscape they can make every time, just the two brothers and some homemade instruments. I don’t know if it’s blues, prog, rock’n’roll or some dusty bastard cowboy jazz, whatever it is I absolutely cannot get enough.
The Dusk Brothers are not going to be big, they are going to be monumental, with swagger and strut this sound is going to stand cocksure and spread legged over radio stations up and down the country. Saddle up and strap yourselves in folks.
Words by Matt Miles