When I encountered the latest release from Crave On over on The Cream I was perplexed. Who was this band and how did they have such a deep discography, yet I’d never heard of them? Sure, there’s tons of bands in town that I am entirely ignorant to but there’s something about these songs in particular that felt like it came from a different era of Nashville. That immediate familiarity mixed with being completely foreign fueled my interest.
Now having listened to Ace on the Outspeaker a dozen times, I’m a few baby steps closer to comprehending exactly what it is about this record that is so grabbing. Crave On has managed to put together a record filled with bizarre combinations. The production values are crisp and polished but the combination of instrumentation choices is atypical at best; violin and mandolin meet drum machine microbeats. Lyrical storytelling that is captivating and catchy but eschews pandering refrains. An energy to the record that is languid but entirely coy – with singer Patrick Orr casting a spell through each of the twelve tales being told. I’m wary of using such esoteric language to describe how an album sounds but there’s an element of mystique to the entire undertaking that’s hard to deny.
In talking with the band about their history and how they came to make this album, Orr informed me:
Kate (Richi) and I had just been on vacation to Berlin and I was kind of inspired by all the electronic music there so I got a cheap drum machine and we started messing with that. It felt stupid to try to play our old songs with a drum machine instead of a drummer so we hatched a plan to record a new batch of stuff that all came from Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music. I grew up hearing that music because my dad is a kind of folklorist/music encyclopedia who used to be a music writer for the Nashville Banner/Tennessean and has worked at the Country Music Hall of Fame since 2001.
After that project we took a year and a half to figure out how we could present a new batch of songs without a drummer in an interesting way. We ended up leaning into the Can/Neu!/Kraftwerk thing with the drum machine which at this point is 3 different machines that are on a pedal board which I put on a keyboard stand…
With just this morsel of historical context, Ace on the Outspeaker becomes infinitely more comprehensible. It’s the logical (but surprising) creation of a tight knit trio of musicians that have steeped themselves equally in American Folk music and Krautrock. The lyrical style is a direct connection to the storytelling tales of the aforementioned Anthology and the mesmerizing build of each song owes itself to krautrock fundamentals. You could have never predicted someone could pull it off but Crave On was daring enough to try and skilled enough to make it work. Extremely well.