There is something inherently comforting knowing that no matter how bleak our prospects look there are kids somewhere riding their bikes down the coast from Seattle to L.A singing songs about summer, surf, and sand. That as bad as things get there will be somebody willing to flip off despair and sing love songs at the top of their lungs as they cruise naked down a California highway. Nomadically minded SLC stalwarts James Miska and Chaz Prymek have collaborated to create an album that spills over with youthful exuberance and unchecked enthusiasm. What started as diversionary side project on their 2009 bike tour from Seattle to California has turned into a collaborative-four piece with instruments including, but not limited to, guitar, banjo, charanga, accordion, and various pieces of percussion. The collaborative nature of this album has produced some exciting results, in fact, H.A.G.S. sounds nothing like a Chaz Prymek or James Miska album, although the first 30 seconds of Chaz’s signature acoustic guitar on “Fruit of the Moon” may fool you. Bramble incorporates the barely-held-together looseness of an Eastern European busking family band, the subversive positivism of an anarcho-folk-punk band, and the swelling a cappella choruses of a campfire sing-along. The first swell of voices on “Colors” sends a chill up my spine on every listen. Probably the most ambitious busking band in the world, H.A.G.S. is meticulously recorded with the fidelity never getting in the way of capturing every nuance of James Miska’s heavenly voice or the group counterpoint shouts, whoops, and hollers. Like Zach Condon’s latest indigenous exploration of native music in Oxaca, Mexico, Bramble weave in the ramshackle harmonies of the Eastern Bloc with a driving (salsa, meringue, raggeton?) beat that pulses with the collective energy of four musicians saying F U to a rapidly deflating sense of optimism in this country. I am probably a better person for listening to this album.
Ryan H.

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