Monday, May 9, 2011

Ewert and the Two Dragons "Good Man Down" - review by Andra Somelar

Ewert Sundja, known to Estonians from “Kaks takti ette” and with his involvement in different bands since then (The Provokers, Precious, Thief) has not only established himself as a serious artist but in in doing so, gained recognition both home and abroad.
“Good Man Down” is the Two Dragons’ second studio album and fits into the modern music scene like an old 80s T-shirt on a college hipster. The album mixes folk, pop and indie with effortless grace, evoking a whole spectrum of emotions from “sounds like Radiohead” to “I want THAT playing at my funeral”. The lyrics are a hot mess of country-ish verse, carried by rhythmic tunes and a combination of Ewert’s lazy voice and cowboy pronunciation. The album’s first single, Good Man Down sounds as authentic as ever; and what is more, completely un-Estonian.
But the album is only picking up speed. Good Man Down is followed by Jolene, a reversed love song if you will. It is not the lead singer’s heart that bleeds after a girl, but ’Jolene’ is the one who craves him and, as the lyrics reveal, to no avail. But Jolene is not the only love song on the record – Road to the Hill manages to make a 180 turn from the melancholic folkishness that the whole album seems immersed in and introduces a much more livelier tune with soft-sounding piano and a more positive message. You Had Me at Hello retains some of that inherent sadness and longing, but like Road to the Hill, carries itself through without making the listener nor the singer cry. It is also the longest song on the album – a whopping 7:10 in total – and has the most enjoyable interlude of pure instrumental bliss as the song treads a pace to an almost marching drum that gives the silver lining and a promise of hope to otherwise wistful lyrics. (In the End) There’s Only Love is most like Road to the Hill, in a sense that it is another lively tune and is, in fact, the liveliest on the record. The listener cannot help but grin at the harmony of the backing vocals – you can almost picture the boys huddled up around a microphone, the rims of their hipster glasses almost touching as they try to channel Bono in Elevation. Sailor Man gives mixed signals, toying with emotion. But the progression of the song is close to perfect and the build-up beautifully done.
Panda, however, takes another turn for the melancholic. It is opium for the bruised soul, borderlining despair with lyrics like ’my legs of stone can’t carry me home’ and ’wanting it is tearing a hole in my soul’. It is obviously one of the most personal songs on the album, reflecting both Ewert and the group as a whole. The title Panda seems almost tongue-in-cheek – much like calling New York cheesecake Poo or 9/11 a misfortunate happening. The song is also lengthy, almost as long as You Had Me at Hello, which might be interpreted as another indicator of its personal nature. Burning Bush is the most Radiohead-esque piece on the record and has the potential to almost surpass them if it were not for the overly cryptic lyrics. That said, it is still enjoyable with its muffled vocals and minimal instrumentals, but suffers greatly from being less than three minutes long. All in all, the song feels static, built on an emotion or, rather, an image and therefore lacks progression.
Falling sounds dreadfully like ten other songs that I cannot put my finger on, but the fact that it sounds like other songs already says enough. It suffers the same chronic staticness as Burning Bush and unlike the latter, fails to bring in a personal element, not even a cryptic one. This song is also captivated by the image of, yup, you guessed it, falling and cannot seem to move away from it. Inevitably, this makes Falling the weakest song on the record. The Rabbit is folk personified, with touches of indie and country. The lyrics conjure up images of country bars and smoking pistols, trains and starry nights out. Ewert’s vocals are most lazy in this particular song and he sounds wise beyond his years, cautioning his listeners to live life to the fullest and make the right decisions in doing so.
Even if you are not an adherent of the indie scene or do not particularly enjoy folk elements in music, the Two Dragons still delivers. Melancholy might be the recurring theme, but it does nothing but elevate the album and give it a sense of cohesiveness. With the exception of a few [aforementioned] missteps, the album is nice whole and a most welcome addition to the Estonian music scene. If the Two Dragons were to venture more southwards one day, I know I would be the first in line to procure a ticket, regardless of the price.

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