By John Benson
Body movement makes sense for dance and athletics, but this simple idea in the context of music continues to creatively inspire Punch Brothers.
The notion of getting physical within a recording studio may seem a bit odd, but that’s exactly what producer Jon Brion (Fiona Apple, Aimee Mann, Rufus Wainwright, Kanye West, Keane) instructed the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based bluegrass act to do on its 2010 Grammy Award-nominated effort, “Antifogmatic.”
“He was getting us to understand the importance of getting the body involved in music,” said Virginia native and Oberlin College graduate Chris Eldridge, calling from Toronto. “You want to make music that’s going to move a listener’s body.”
Now two years later, that directive continues to fuel the Punch Brothers on its recently released third studio effort, “Who’s Feeling Young Now?,” which is easily the band’s most accessible album to date.
“We weren’t trying to mainstream up the music at all, but one thing we were trying to do was make it more direct,” Eldridge said. “In the past, one thing that we’ve been guilty of is stacking on complication after complication, sort of because we can. Now we realize a lot of the music we really love the most — and we really connect to on a deep and emotional level — it’s little bit more straightforward, and it’s music that involves our bodies.”
Ironically, the album’s lead track is “Movement and Location,” which has an indie-rock feel with pulsing guitar, bass and banjo lines. Other standout songs include the revenge-minded “New York City” and instrumental covers of “Flippen” from the Swedish band Vasen and Radiohead’s “Kid A.”
Originally created by former Nickel Creek member and mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile, the Punch Brothers over the years have shown a proclivity for performing, well, nothing short of mind-blowing cover songs. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. It was roughly a decade ago when Thile’s erstwhile band famously covered indie-rock act Pavement in concert,
Recently, the Punch Brothers have kicked out everything from the obscure (“Reptilia” from The Strokes,” “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” by The White Stripes and “Sexx Laws” by Beck) to the mainstream (“Just What I Needed” by The Cars). Such diversity leads one to wonder what in the world is going on in the band’s dressing room before the show?
“We want to put on a show that’s interesting to both us and the audience,” said Eldridge, who remembers being enthralled during a Hilary Hahn recital at Oberlin. “Just something interesting, surprising and fun, hopefully. We learn so much from covering other bands and trying to really get inside of what makes a song tick.”