Promised Land Sound
For Use and Delight
A1. “Push and Pull (All the Time)” 5:13
A2. “She Takes Me There” 4:48
A3. “Otherworldly Pleasures” 3:40
A4. “Through the Seasons” 3:49
A5. “Dialogue” 3:20
B1. “Oppression” 3:33
B2. “Golden Child” 4:29
B3. “Canfield Drive” 4:43
B4. “Better Company” 3:50
B5. “Northern Country Scene” 4:10
X. “Within Sight” 6:41 (CD/digital bonus track)
Nashville’s finest purveyors of febrile root-work psychedelia return with a dizzyingly accomplished second album that highlights an expanded band (including members of the Paperhead and Fly Golden Eagle); bigger, bolder arrangements featuring more and louder guitars, squally strings, and Steve Gunn; and road-ripened songwriting that veers between the frenetic and tender, recalling Jim Ford, the Pretty Things, the Grateful Dead, Dennis Linde, and the Byrds at their most eight-miles-fried.
When you’re a young dude in Music City, a lot can happen in a couple years. The Promised Land Sound whose debut country-rock burner Paradise of Bachelors released in 2013, when its members were all at or well below the quarter-century mark—all garage-gang vocals, ragged Telecaster licks, and buzzing Farfisas—is not the same band that recorded the ambitious, nuanced second album For Use and Delight.
Firstly, the lineup slimmed almost immediately following the first record’s release, and they toured as a ferociously efficient trio for a spell: de facto frontman Joe Scala on bass and lead vocals, his brother Evan Scala on drums and vocals, and the virtuosic Sean Thompson on guitar and occasional vocals. The current lineup likewise prominently features invaluable Nashville stalwarts Peter Stringer-Hye (The Paperhead) on additional vocals and rhythm guitar and polymath Mitch Jones (Fly Golden Eagle) on keyboards, as well as handling co-production and string arrangements on the record. That’s Peter singing on “She Takes Me There” and “Northern Country Scene,” and providing honey to Joe’s vinegar on “Through the Seasons”; his chugging rhythm parts allow Sean space to explore the stratosphere. Mitch’s complex but understated organ and electric piano parts color and thicken things throughout, providing a subtle glaze to the proceedings.
But beyond key personnel shifts, sometime over the course of the last year, after serious time spent writing and weeks on the road with Alabama Shakes and Angel Olsen, something ineffable crystallized. For Use and Delight is the album on which Promised Land Sound finds their distinctive idiom, the distilled articulation of their mutable live performances, during which songs expand and contract, guitars flicker, flame, and gutter, and the Scala Bros. rhythm section achieves a full-throttle locomotive choogle that locates the common/contested ground between J.J. Cale and Can. So the title—a reference to a line by 17th-century herbalist John Parkinson—is archly appropriate, suggesting that a recording is a vehicle of both utility and pleasure, at once a workaday, arbitrary document of a specific time and place and perhaps something much more than that, something potentially elemental, transformative, even magical, the site of “Otherworldy Pleasures.” (More literally, the herbal connotations also suggest the much more seasoned band they have become, and perhaps recreational affinities as well.)
In this case, the time and place are significant; the band recorded all the foundational tracks with engineer and co-producer Jason Meagher at his venerable Black Dirt Studio in Westtown, New York. Rural upstate New York is a long van ride from their native Nashville, a city overflowing with fine recording facilities, but the Nashville exodus was intentional and symbolic: Black Dirt happens to be the longtime studio home of the band’s friend and mentor Steve Gunn, where he recorded both Way Out Weather and Time Off with Meagher at the boards (and sometimes on bass too.) Steve sits in on the instrumental “Dialogue,” and his presence inspires the incredible guitar kineticism that animates “Golden Child” (summoning full Blue Öyster Cult biker-boogie intensity); the extended jam that ends “Within Sight”; and particularly album opener “Push and Pull (All the Time),” which elevates the unhinged energy of the band’s early material to the sublime, unfurling a helical riff and vocal melody that feel inevitable and inexorable, only to unexpectedly unravel, slow down, and open up to the rising sun at the halfway point.
If the first album resembled, as Uncut enthusiastically described it, “what the Byrds might have sounded had Gram Parsons joined the band a year or two earlier,” then For Use and Delight suggests a heavier, darker potential meeting of Jim Ford and S.F. Sorrow-era Pretty Things (without all the conceptual baggage, but retaining the razor-wire guitars and unabashed ambition.) But that’s all fantasy rock and roll gaming, and lest you think Promised Land Sound is a band that aspires to sound like the sum of their record collections, think again: the fact is that there just aren’t many other bands writing and inhabiting rock and roll songs of this scale and structural and performative sophistication. The Chiltonisms and chiaroscuro of “She Takes Me There” recall Big Star, but not so much in sound as in sentiment—the melancholy dislocation of a Southern band in a Southern city, but existing strangely out of time and pushing beyond geography. Listen to the bittersweet swagger of “Otherwordly Pleasures” or “Oppression”: despite the classic psych and pop influences, Promised Land Sound is in some essential sense a staunchly Southern band, unselfconscious classicists eager to anchor their songs in traditional forms while tearing at the edges of the vernacular.
- Available on virgin vinyl as an LP, with heavy-duty matte jacket and color insert, as well as on gatefold CD and digital formats.
- Vinyl edition includes digital download coupon.
- CD and digital editions include bonus track “Within Sight.”
#37 Best Album of the Year. On constant rotation in the MOJO offices was this second album from a young Nashville five-piece who appear to have studied every great country-rock LP of the 1970s and added their own special mix of eerily hypnotic riffs, cryptic lyrics, and hazy, plaintive harmonies.
4/5 stars. Redolent of a summer road trip from the hazy Memphis of Big Star and Jesse Winchester to the shining Los Angeles of Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever, For Use and Delight is by turns plaintive and rocking, a wistful rhythmic journey into a band’s true beating heart … One of my LPs of the year.
– Andrew Male, MOJO
The loveliness and vitality of “She Takes Me There” reflects all of For Use And Delight. With a sound that’s at once more focused and wider-ranging than on its first album, the group shows why psychedelia is always a great aesthetic to revive: It provides plenty of historical touchstones, from The Byrds to the Rain Parade to Promised Land Sound collaborator Steve Gunn; but because the psychedelic experience is about mind expansion, it always goes somewhere new. Sad or happy, calm like this track or ripping up the studio, this band is on a path that’s deeply pleasurable.
– Ann Powers, NPR Music
Their current lineup is the very definition of synergy; every element enhancing and reinforcing the others until the finished product exceeds anything that could’ve been achieved alone. By the time the last 40 seconds of lead single “She Takes Me There” spin out into a cosmic, ragged howl of guitar noise, the track has already offered such an empathetic, yearning story about its subject that no other ending seems possible. What feels real is the power of this song to transform the past into a rippling memory, carrying it into the present on the wings of a melody.
– Caitlin White, Stereogum
8/10. Promised Land Sound approach their folk-rock source material with both wide-eyed wonder and deep understanding. Lead guitarist Sean Thompson displays precocious virtuosity, spinning out bent-note filigrees that recall the work of his legendary namesake. Joe Scala summons a strident quaver, evoking Dylan and McGuinn amid lysergic guitar splendor, suggesting this throwback band has a bright future.
– Bud Scoppa, Uncut
Loosely wandering but tightly composed forays into garage rock with a blurry, psychedelic edge. They may be from Tennessee, but their second LP, For Use and Delight, is more evocative of Dylan’s Infidels than Nashville Skyline, jetting off into lush and layered territory that pulls from Link Wray and the Band.
– Marissa Moss, Rolling Stone
In the past, the group’s music has referenced Gram Parsons; now, you can also hear the influence of British psychedelic band The Pretty Things.
– NPR’s World Cafe Live
The energy and the choogle remain firmly in place on the Nashville-based band’s sophomore effort, but For Use and Delight is a quantum leap forward in terms of songwriting, interplay and general righteousness. The immediate standout is “She Takes Me There,” a woozy heartbreaker that suggests a mid-70s collabo between Neil Young and Chris Bell. But the rest of the LP is stellar as well. It’s more the overall, locked-in vibe that ultimately stands out, as Promised Land Sound conjure up The Dead, the Byrds, and Blonde on Blonde, along with some killer sidetrips into krautrock, folk forms and deeper psych. This is the sound of a band coming into its own.
– Tyler Wilcox, Aquarium Drunkard
The Young Nashville band have quietly established themselves as folk-rock revivalists par excellence over the past couple of years, artful connoisseurs of jangle and twang. “She Takes Me There” reveals a group of ever-expanding potential, though, recalling as it does mid-’70s Fleetwood Mac at their most exquisitely hazy.
4/5 stars. Picks up where their debut self-titled album left off, taking the cosmic Americana of The Byrds, Burritos, and Band and adding light touches of psych and dreamy melodies to create a sound which burns brightly. Gorgeous. PLS transcend their influences and stand on their own as major contenders.
– Paul Osborne, Shindig!
For Use and Delight expands on the group’s already excellent foundation. [It] conjures the best parts of Southern rock and country, but Promised Land Sound adds a grittier edge that separates them from the flood of wishy-washy, too-pristine pop country.
– Allison Hussey, The Bluegrass Situation
8/10. If your promised land is full of warm harmonies, rich guitar, and well-crafted songs of cosmic country rock then you’ve died and gone to heaven.
4/5. Manages a robust rock clamor that sways with an earthy Big Pink-meets-Workingman’s Dead spirit. The music is beautifully captured with an overwhelmingly organic feel in spite of being festooned with plenty of wah-guitar and other tasteful effects. From their clever songcraft to the very natural manner in which they’ve presented it, Promised Land Sound have delivered a gem with a rambling country-folk feel and plenty of rock vitality.
4 stars. Steve Gunn’s technique of psychedelia through exploratory musicianship has clearly encouraged PLS to let their songs travel, and the result is a second album of distinct personality. With three vocalists, and a perfect balance of swing, punch and sensitivity, this is music that casually enters a room and wins the attention of everyone present.
– Sydney Morning Herald
4/5. A slow-burn intensity that’s remarkable. The overall sound here—certainly one must single out the ghostly intimacy of the vocals, with the harmonies recalling better-known contemporaries Dawes and the subtle yet expansive keyboard fills at the arrangements’ edges are lovely—is good enough to draw the attention of the majors and their bigger budgets and bigger studios.
Delight finds the youthful members of PSL focusing hard on creating smart pop hooks that are more polished than their raucous debut. Delight is a mature outing well beyond its time, with refined sensibilities in guitar playing and vocals. If you wanted to characterize PSL as alt-country before, you will find that they have evolved into much more sophisticated territory. Their references are thoughtful and classic, and their melodies are catchy and mesmerizing. You can hear an intense passion in these songs.
– Glide Magazine
There is a kind of shimmer to this whole album. It’s in the production, but most importantly it’s in the songwriting. Every song and performance feels as if it has been presented just as it is meant to be. There is an incredible amount of honesty and ingenuity in this music that really shines through.
– Slate the Disco
Scuzzy melodies and chiming guitars combining to encapsulate the sounds of summer in song form. The rosy lyrics and shimmying chords take you back to warm bonfires and the glow of fireflies during hot July evenings. It’s enough to make you ache for the summer that’s already beginning to slip away.
Reminds me of Eggs Over Easy & the Link Wray albums—a version of country-rock that isn’t too glossy, that still has gravel stuck in the boot toes.
– William Tyler
What the Byrds might have sounded like had Gram Parsons joined the band a year or two earlier. Exemplary!
– John Mulvey, Uncut
Brisk country-rock tunes that might make a young Gram Parsons kneel down and pray.