I forget how Nashville's Apache Relay first made it onto my radar, but I do remember that they made a big first impression. "Home Is Not Places" is an anthemic rallying-cry for friends, family and home -- and it may be my favorite song of 2011 so far. Back in March I featured it on our Spring Mixtape. I've recently learned two more things about Apache Relay. First, "Home Is Not Places" is no abberation; American Nomad, out today, is packed with equally-fantastic songs that feature rousing crescendos and huge, melodic hooks. Second, they are one of the best, most captivating live bands I've seen -- especially for an opening act at a half-full club.
Let's start with American Nomad. The album starts with "Can't Wake Up", a piano-driven indie-pop song that may be a little too glossly and Coldplay-esque for my usual tastes, but demonstrates the pure pop sensibility that makes the album such a fun listen. "Power Hungry Animals" benefits from a bit more grit and restraint, as strummed acoustic guitar build to a galloping, breakneck crescendo. From there, almost every song is a highlight. "Sets Me Free" is a soul-tinged burner, "Lost Kid" features a singalong chorus and spiky guitar lead and "American Nomad" is the driving, charging title track. A fantastic cover of Bruce Springsteen's "State Trooper", featuring an appropriately sparse arrangement that devolves into guitar chaos at the end, pays homage to an obvious influence. The album closees with "Some People Change", a reflective tune that makes for the perfect thematic close to the album. American Nomad is high on my list of favorite albums of 2011 so far - it's got the songwriting, arrangements and production-shine of a much more accomplished band. Fans of The Head And The Heart, Other Lives, Delta Spirit et al would do well to give this a listen - they may just find their favorite new band.
As for the live show, another jaw-dropping surprise. Exhausted, I dragged myself out to Great Scott on Thursday night hoping that I wasn't wasting my time. Apache Relay took the stage and launched into "Power Hungry Animals" and before the first chorus I knew I had made a good decision. Frontman Michael Ford Jr performs like a man posessed, jumping around the stage, dancing and drawing the crowd into the show. The rest of the band plays off his energy. It was striking as people streamed into a half-full Great Scott and immediately pressed up to the stage, trading "holyshitthisisamazing" looks while their toes tapped and heads bobbed. I'm fairly certain that I was one of few in the audience that knew the band before that night, but after the set there was a long line of people at the merch table waiting to pick up a copy of American Nomad. Truly one of the best opening sets I've ever seen. Apache Relay has launched themselves into the echelon of bands that I will not miss when they are in Boston. Hopefully next time they will play a longer, headlining - but even if not, I have no doubt they'll leave town with more fans than they had before.
The full set is available below for stream or download. To my immense disappointment, the soundboard recording I got suffered from some bad distortion, so this is a room-recording only. Sound is average - still, if you like what you hear, please support the band by buying their music.
Great Scott - Boston, MA
April 7, 2011
Here's a taste for the band's live show and preview of "Home Is Not Places" from American Nomad: