Like a stone eroded by years in the arroyo, Gun Outfit's enveloping 'Western expanse' aesthetic of guitar levitations and honky-tonk hexes has become gradually smoother over time. Their fifth LP ranks as their most brutally beautiful statement yet. Drawing from mythologies both classical and postmodern, Out of Range builds a world in which Brueghel the Elder, St. Augustine, and the ancient goddess Cybele ride with John Ford, Samuel Beckett, and Wallace Stevens on a Orphic-Gnostic suicide drive towards the hallucinatory vanishing points of the Southwestern desert, debating the denouement of the decaying American dream.
'And Orpheus' ghost fled under the earth, and knew the places he had known before' Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book XI
Orpheus had a hell of a time. Of all the evocative modern retellings of the Orpheus myth by Jean Cocteau, Marcel Camus, Philip K. Dick, et al none equals the blunt power of Ovid's version in Metamorphoses. After losing his lover Eurydice, the great musician Orpheus swears off women and turns instead to the love of young men. He refuses to worship all gods but Apollo, inciting Dionysus' female followers the Maenads to tear him limb from limb. Orpheus' severed head and orphaned lyre, still singing and strumming his bewitching songs 'made the pale phantoms weep' float down the Hebrus River to Lesbos, and his ghost revisits the underworld where he left Eurydice.
Sonically, Gun Outfit has never sounded more confidently awash in its collective strengths and nuances, its players never more sensually attuned to each other's playing. Like a stone eroded by years in the arroyo, the band's enveloping aesthetic of guitar levitations and honky-tonk hexes has become gradually smoother over time. Sharp and Keith have become highly sensitive, idiosyncratic singers and guitariststwo voices that meld and ascend into a wild, honeyed helix. Drummer and founding member Dan Swire (drums, percussion, guitar) and Adam Payne (bass, guitar) comprise the rare rhythm section able to vault a song into the strata through sheer will (as on the kinetic, anthemic Sally Rose) or show remarkable restraint when required (Primacy of Love). Henry Barnes, the legendary mastermind of Man Is the Bastard and Amps for Christ, has gone from mentoring multi-instrumentalist accomplice to official band member, scarifying these songs with his singular guitar, dulcimer, bouzouki, and fiddle parts as well as his own homemade hybrid instruments like the 'sibanjar' and 'springocaster lap-slide'. Engineered by Facundo Bermudez (Ty Segall, No Age) and mixed by Chris Cohen (Weyes Blood, Cass McCombs) in Los Angeles, the recording process spanned the 2016 presidential election. Dylan recorded the vocals for Cybele, a song about a religious cult, drowned antiquities, and the end of empire, ten minutes after the election results were announced.
Out of Range ends with the moving Second Decade, an unusually autobiographical and candidly self-reflexive meditation on the experience of playing together in a decade-spanning band, and the effects of of time on art. Using the stage as metaphor, each of Gun Outfit's singers assumes a role in a Samuel Beckett play, Carrie as Winnie from Happy Days and Dylan as Estragon from Waiting for Godot: 'Ten years attention/Trying to hold on/You were akin to Winnie/While I was doing Estragon.' They're existential antiheroes, each half of an enduring partnership, who have returned underground, like Orpheus, to the out-of-range places they've known before, to play ballads for the dead: 'Oh my/Caroline/Can you believe how hard it is to keep a love alive?/Ten years of working/And playing all our parts/We had to call it a country/Because it was bigger than a work of art.' And the pale phantoms weep.