by M. Lewis Barker
Ben Franklin wrote (paraphrasing Daniel Defoe), “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Certainly a fatalistic view, showing those elements which seem to deny us all our labors and efforts. I like to think that good music is a certainty too. No matter where you go, at any time in the history of civilization, you can find people making good music. It doesn’t matter what genre it is, or how much experience the performers have, someone is doing something great. When Jazz became standardized and bland in the late 1940s, its innovators took to secrecy and created Bebop. While Rock & Roll turned into overproduced, commercialized Hair Metal, underground musicians formed a vast network of original Indie bands that kept the true spirit of Rock and Punk alive without imitating it.
And just when I think that Provo’s over-saturated brand of Indie Folk – heavily influenced by Rock, Bluegrass, and Country – has no more originality left in it (despite worthy efforts by Cody Taylor and Pablo Blaqk to convince me otherwise), Adding Machines releases Death & Taxes. They pull influences from so many sources, never chaining themselves down to one genre. Yes, it is most definitely a Folk/Country record, flavored with banjos, mandolins, and strings. The songs follow predictable chord progressions and catchy melodies you know you’ve heard before. They’re fun and completely unpretentious (unlike that first paragraph).
The first song, “Reason”, is pretty typical Country Folk, but if you listen carefully at the end, the ending chord quickly goes flat just before the song ends. While probably unintentional, it’s a little hint that the album is going to skew your perceptions of the genre a bit. “Halfway There” and “Baby Girl” are more of the same, but all the songs are strong enough that they stand out on their own. Slide guitars, strong piano melodies, and background vocals accent the songs. Jake Haws sings about his expectant daughter on “Baby Girl” and does a much better job than Scott Stapp’s cornball attempt on Creed’s “With Arms Wide Open”.
“Better Off” is a slow ballad. It’s not breaking any new ground, but at around 2:30, when that electric guitar infiltrates the music, Death & Taxes gets serious. The overdriven guitar solo lasts several minutes. Wasn’t this a fun little alt country record? The song reminds me of Trembling Blue Stars or even Collective Soul in its honesty. Songs like this and the beautiful, jazzy “New Girl” are what catapult the album into greatness. “New Girl” is probably my favorite song on the album. Did Adding Machines get another singer or is that Melissa Haws belting those resonant alto melodies? If it is her, she has got the range of a goddess. That voice returns on “The Sun & The Moon”, a haunting ballad of whale cries and acoustic guitars.
As the title track, “Death & Taxes” better be pretty damn impressive. Did Adding Machines know that I am a sucker for a big droning note that the rest of the song builds itself around? Because that glorious bassy A note is a powerful testament to the band’s ability to create tension and buildup, released in another great guitar solo. The solo isn’t virtuosic, but it still gets its point across. The song perfectly blends Country and Rock, with accents on the 3rd beat and overdriven guitar licks.
“Blue Skies” brings the album together. There’s something of a dichotomy between the upbeat pop tracks and the slower ballads, and this song manages to sound like both. Brass instruments and Daniel Smock’s steady drums are juxtaposed against the slower melodic lines. Nowhere else on Death & Taxes is the Decemberists influence more apparent. “Blue Skies” would fit snugly onto Picaresque.
After 12 songs of heavily layered music, the record ends with “Anna”, a duet with only a single guitar track accompanying it. Like everything else on Death & Taxes, the song is memorable in its familiar catchiness. Until very recently, Jake ran Muse Music Cafe for a few years and owning his own professional studio allowed Haws and his bandmates to have freedom in recording that many bands cannot enjoy.But instead of using their resources to create some kind of self-indulgent project (heaven knows that’s what I would have done), they instead put out one of the most enjoyable, listenable albums I’ve ever heard.
Their busy schedules and other commitments prevent Adding Machines from playing many shows, and as a result they are one of Provo’s lesser-known bands. But Jake, Melissa, and Dan (and Matt Weidauer maybe?) have brought you a record that I can safely say you will enjoy. It’s just good music, and that’s one of life’s certainties. Head on over to Muse Music Cafe to pick up your own copy of the record. Or head on over to their Soundcloud page to stream it for free!