The DeSoto Caucus released their second and third albums within 11 months of each other, in 2013 and 2014. I first caught up with them on their third, self-titled album, which I liked a lot. This Danish quartet took a bit more time writing and recording their latest, aptly titled 4, and that extra effort pays off big-time.
To catch you up a bit if you’re new to the band, the members of this quartet were key players in Giant Sand for the past decade or more. They also backed and toured with other notable indie acts, and around about 2008 started recording and playing as The DeSoto Caucus. With 4 they seem to be really hitting their stride.
They play a kind of laid-back desert rock that owes a lot to the sound of Giant Sand, but on this album they’ve added a major country-soul vibe, in addition to occasional elements of psychedelica. The lyrics of their songs are mostly co-written and co-sung by Anders Pedersen and Nikolaj Heyman, and this new approach now finds the music closely matching the lyrics.
Those lyrics are amazingly poetic and emotion-packed for being written in what I assume is a second language for these guys. Take one of the singles, “Falling.”
This fall we’re finally falling
and the freezing dark days
soon come crawling
she said you’re appalling
like the sick polaroids
you keep installing.
Verses like that one demonstrate a sophisticated level of wordplay to rival anything by Giant Sand’s word-meister Howe Gelb, and the highly distorted, chunky guitar emphasizes the woeful lyrics about a relationship that seems to be fading away with the seasons, sung by Pedersen in his style that’s somewhere between a croon and a moan.
Here’s a performance video of “Falling” filmed as they were recording the album in Heyman’s north country studio in a former horse stable.
Other standouts include “Powerlines,” its slow, shimmering vocals floating atop a desert soul arrangement complete with a horn section and a great baritone sax solo from guest Mads-Ole Erhardsen; and the languid and spacey “Moon Palace” with its dual lead vocals, a floating pedal steel guitar mirroring the introspective lyrics; and “Black Dog,” its portentous lyrics emphasized by ominous dark chords, but lightened by the soulful beat and anthemic choruses, not to mention the snaky synth in a call-and-response with the twangy guitars.
Things get more psychedelic as the album progresses, until we’re in Haight-Ashbury territory on tracks like “Free,” with Heyman singing lead in his pleading soulful falsetto, and some “Strawberry Fields”-like synth, keys and guitars. Or “Under Glass,” a loping bluesy rocker complete with bongos and an absolutely scorching guitar solo. Or “Backfire,” introduced with a bit of back-masked guitar but turning into a languid spaghetti-western love theme as imagined by Tom Petty.
For my money, though, the best of the bunch is the last one, “Flatlands.” Heyman wrote the bleak lyrics to this bleak picture of near despair, but it’s sung as a duet, as are most of the 11 tracks. The droning synth, chugging soulful bass line and from Henrik Poulsen and some mysterious burbling percussion by drummer Peter Dombernowsky, make it one of the coolest-sounding songs of the year so far.
Fans of Giant Sand, Calexico, Maggie Bjorklund and other desert-rock will love The DeSoto Caucus’s 4, of course. But lovers of creative indie rock, who like a bit of soul or a bit of psychedelica mixed in with sharp but understated playing, creative arrangements and literate lyrics should definitely give it a chance.