Conceived as an outlet for Josh Erwin and Michael Paynter outside their other group (Packway Handle Band), Sans Abri strikes a jovial tone somewhere between the band in the Free Credit Score.com commercials and the bluegrass duo in recent Geico ads. These comparisons are not a slight; rather, these speak to the seemingly flippant nature of the seven songs on their debut album, Shelter.
As if free associating from the outset, album opener “Self Preservation” could easily be from the point of view of a psychiatrist conducting a couch session with a patient — a patient whose therapy is recounted across the duration of the album, leading to clarity through genetic memory.
Doctor tried to crush me in the birth canal
He didn’t want to let me out
Now sometimes I wonder if he knew something I don’t
In between, philosophical and scientific ideals are levied via nursery rhymes (“Weights”) and pharmacology (“One Pill a Day”). Drawn out and dissected are the patient’s experiences (the expository road song “Every Turn”) and proclivities (the busking hymn “Paid”) that have formed his personality.
Guitar and mandolin interplay forms the tension and playfulness of Shelter, with Erwin and Paynter’s harmonies dotting moments of healing. Where at first the songs of Shelter may appear to be sarcastic, tossed-off jokes, further analysis finds both depth and longing to be probed.
Having taken their first steps outside the comfort zone of Packway Handle Band, let’s hope Sans Abri continues to mature rather than regress. Shelter is a sure sign of progress.
Stream and/or purchase Shelter below should your copay allow.