Review: 'The Wireless EP'

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Wednesday November 25, 2015

From Pitchfork

Punch Brothers: The Wireless EP
By: Zoe Camp

Recorded during the same sessions that beget their last album, last year’s T-Bone Burnett-produced The Phosphorescent Blues, Punch Brothers’ latest, The Wireless EP, combines three cuts previously included on that record’s deluxe vinyl edition with two never-before-heard tracks, bridging their most recent musical statement with their next avant-American LP. The collection’s diverse blend of pensive instrumentals, rousing singsongs, and stylistic experiments-namely, a roots-y interpretation of Elliott Smith’s “Clementine”-makes it a great introduction to the Punch Brothers’ quirky, clever bluegrass, as well as a satisfying (if modest) addition to the quintet’s catalog.

Guitar, mandolin, fiddle/violin, banjo, bass, and whiskey-smooth vocals: six sounds-no more and no less-comprise the bulk of Punch Brothers’ deceptively full sound, a paradigm familiar to anyone who’s heard put on an Alison Krauss or Doc Watson LP. The biggest challenge for the group is molding this simplistic sonic recipe into a multitude of forms without falling victim to redundancy (or even worse, directionless noodling)-and Thile and company make it look like nothing. Where slow-churning opening track “In Wonder” pits soaring harmonies against a relentless, defiant fiddle, slinky instrumental “The Hops of Guldenberg” offers a country-fried take on jazz improvisation. There’s even room for existential banter: centerpiece “Sleek White Baby” stars Ed Helms of “The Office” fame as an old-timey announcer hawking the answer to all life’s problems against a serendipitous shuffle.

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