Miners Hit Black Gold
As diverse as its members, The Stripminers’ debut album Frail Hope Ranch delivers a myriad of genres and themes – one moment heavy metal and the next minute bluegrass. The record is not, however, incoherent. The Stripminers derive brilliancy from a hybrid of sonic quality, grand lyrics, and conceptual mastery. Each track is more heavily saturated in some of these areas, offering fans of all varieties the opportunity to experience a powerful album.
Producer Scrote is responsible for this genius project. He encouraged The Radishes’ Paul Stinson to write songs with Brett Anderson of The Donnas, believing the two could complement each others’ styles and skills. Apparently, the combination of grunge and pop-rock caused an explosive creative reaction. Soon enough, DJ Bonebrake (X, Eyes), Brett Simons (Brian Wilson, Fiona Apple), and Holland Greco (Anais Mitchell, The Peak Show) leaped on board. Every member’s compositional influence and experience resonates throughout the record.
Frail Hope Ranch opens with the eerie and instrumental “Gothic,” leading listeners to expect more from this dark atmosphere of minor chords and heavy metal. Indeed, the following track “Y’all Part 1” sounds related, with its dragging, slow characteristics, but with a spotlight on chilling vocals. “The Twins” elevates the sound further, making Stinson’s grunge influence obvious. And so it goes with the remainder of the record; each song borrows aspects from its predecessor but tweaks the sound, heightens the energy, or spins it with new instruments.
Anderson shines brightest in Frail Hope Ranch. Donnas fans might be surprised at her change of genre, as she performs more as a folksy, soulful singer. For instance, note her lusty breathiness on “Felt It.” But her old audiences won’t be disappointed. Half torch, half rock and roll, “She’s Not There” allows The Stripminers to demonstrate their punk chops. DJ Bonebrake smashes his drums without missing a beat as Scrote and Greco get to ravish their guitars while bass master Simons grooves nonstop. This song, guaranteed stick in your brain, deserves coveted “repeat” status.
Though the album’s title incites hopeless, desperate ambiance, its spirit is anything but. The Stripminers will soon celebrate a two-year anniversary, but their cohesiveness sounds like they’ve been playing together for ages That’s the advantage to a band composed of already-experienced musicians, but these sorts of groups also run the risk of “washed-upedness.” However, the fresh and surprising quality of Frail Hope Ranch rejects any notion of this sort. Like actual strip miners, they ignore layers of earthly junk to expose the glistening reward underneath. Who knows what they’ll find when they dig even deeper?