In Rotation: Speaker For The Dead - The Ballad of the Undercrust

Phil Collins - November 11, 2014

The Ballad of the Undercrust

Speaker For The Dead's debut full-length, The Ballad of the Undercrust, is a testament to the power of DIY recording and distribution. According to the band's bandcamp and tumblr pages, Speaker For The Dead is an "almost collective." What does that mean? It means their lineup is as fluid as a river and their default location of Worcester, Massachusetts acts as more of a base of operations than a hometown. The group has members all across the country, so their lineup constantly grows and shrinks as they tour.

This loose, amorphous arrangment suits their style of music well. Speaker For The Dead play a brass-based large-scale folk-punk that at times resembles Neutral Milk Hotel. The big band instrumentation on the recordings makes it easy to see how the band could expand outward exponentially on a tour, adding percussion here and horns there. It is no small wonder that a band of this gelatinous demeanor got into the studio to record a full album.

The songs are the sort that you might find yourself singing along to by the end of the first listen. The lyrics are meaningful and memorable. The band takes a strong queer-positive, anti-racist, anti-sexist position and that often comes through poignantly in their lyrics. "Sounds Like A Protest," the first song following the album's spoken-word opener, decries cash-grabbing bands and labels, ending with the chant "Don't support a music scene that doesn't support you and me." This was my favorite song on the recently released comp Folk-O-Rama vol. 4 and served as my introduction to the band. The last two songs on The Ballad of the Undercrust, "Always Ask Consent Before (Anything)...and the wrym imperceptibly nods" and "Contract" combine for a 12-plus-minute epic finish. It is thematically and sonically a microcosm of the album as a whole. Stream the album in full below or head to the Speaker For The Dead bandcamp for a pay-what-you-want download.