When the first jangly notes rang out and Donovon Quinn started singing on “Billy, God Damn,” it was like an old friend stopping by to say hello. So much about the exquisitely languid Last Time I Saw Grace is expertly crafted, written and constructed with such care that it becomes a world unto itself. “…the haze on the lights that leads us up and up that hill… like we always do, like we always will,” Quinn croons while Chasny’s falsetto wordlessly backs him up, dropping you through a wormhole into smoke-filled rooms and late night escapades of your youth. Infectious from the first moment, Last Time I Saw Grace is a goddamn delight.
In the early years of Foxy Digitalis’ last iteration, Six Organs of Admittance, Verdure and Skygreen Leopards were mainstays, projects that truly defined that particular time. New Bums harness that vibe, both here and on their first record, but nothing ever sounds like a rehash. Again, it all goes back to just how damn good they are as songwriters. Both Chasny and Quinn have continued getting better and better through the years. Chasny’s more the shredder, Quinn the melody maker, though the roles morph throughout. Regardless, when they play together the stars align.
All that being said, I’m continually struck by how savage Last Time I Saw Grace can be. There’s a real bummer undercurrent throughout that suits Chasny and Quinn and makes a lot of sense in the current environment. “Onward to Devastation” has a finality to it, a real feeling that there’s an inevitability to everything falling apart so why fight it? I get sad listening to the melancholic, nostalgic-longing of “Marlene Left California” (a quick note to how beautifully Chasny and Quinn interpreted this song. The original was always a favorite) where Quinn’s minor-key melodies find their richest playground. Chasny is so good in that same space, too, though. Album closer “Follow Them Up the Slope” closes the curtains on everything, the funeral march saying good luck and goodbye.
Gallows don’t dominate Last Time I Saw Grace, though. Don’t worry. “Cover Band” is darkly hilarious, especially with lines like “If things get slow, we’ll play an original now and then” (and again, New Bums breathe new life into it even if the original was also lovely). My youth spent in shitty bars lived this life from both sides of the song. “Tuned to Graffiti” glows like a real-life fantasy land and I’m not going to lie, I got some real GNR “Patience” vibes on “Wild Dogs,” especially as it shifted to the outro.I fucking love it.
What a year 2005 is having in 2021. First we get Sunburned Hand of the Man back in fine form, and now we’ve got Donovan Quinn and Ben Chasny cranking out a beautiful, memorable album of downer folk songs that feel current even if they have tendrils back to those heady years. Last Time I Saw Grace is a beauty.