I find it hard to consider Mark Kraus a folk artist. Its things like the minimalist guitar loop that encircles vocals of the album’s opener that defy the genre and his emotive and compelling delivery that makes him not your parents version of a singer songwriter. He doesn’t approach folk in the same way more conventional pop/ folk artists like Mumford and Sons and Iron and Wine or the even the icons of the genre like Bob Dylan, Paul Simon or James Taylor. Kraus owes more to bands like Arcade Fire, Snow Patrol and Modest Mouse. The organ in "You and the Boys " is the first element that really gives it the kind of organic feel you expect from this sort of thing. The drums play a more important role and drive the song in a manner that takes you back to bands like Soul Asylum or the Gin Blossoms, you know the time period when alternative broke into the mainstream and was fun in the post- Nirvana world.
While I didn’t pay that much attention to the lyrics on my first listen, on my second listen to the album the line from “You and the Boys” “you’re wide open / like jack knife truck” was the first to grab my ear. One thing that stands out about him is he is not afraid to sing. Many singer-songwriters find themselves in a safe box musically and tend to put all the emphasis on lyrics and phrasing, but really don’t have much of a range or attempt to stray from reaching more than a whole step for a note. While he doesn’t engage in Jeff Buckley vocal gymnastics he reaches for notes at times with gusto at others with more delicacy.
The acoustic guitar slowly begins to take more of the spot light, yet is balanced out with sounds mixed into the corners of the songs with his voice up front. "The Weekends" is as delicate as anything Dashboard Confessional might have done, with surreal backwards tracks layered with delay in the background. He continues on this introspective path with "Eveline". Things begin to solidify with juxtaposition between spacey ambiance and the solid strum of guitar. There are some blues like moment to some of the layers of electric guitar. There is a more Bright Eyes take on organic folk on " Put An Old Record On". He emotes in a more reflective and thoughtful manner like Win Butler from Arcade Fire rather than the raw crying out pour. A harmonica shows up and the Americana more typical of folk singers these days crops up on " Little Brother" but eight song into the album its in moderation. Competing with “You and the Boys” for the title My favorite song on the album is "Broke Busted”, is more in the Bright Eyes vein, very emotive but also smooth in its moodiness. The guitar is downplayed, though an electric guitar is in the background playing jazz chords. The album closes with a similar introspection; female backing vocals lightly haunt the periphery of the song. His vocal performance on this song might be the album's most impassioned. Overall these are songs with a lot of honest feeling infused into them and Kraus is worth checking out when it comes out August 18th.