The first thing that people tend to mention about Big Blood is their prolificacy. This is the duo that released five excellent albums in 2007 alone while also participating in part of the larger groups Cerberus Shoal and Fire on Fire. But what’s more impressive than their frequency of output is just how consistently high-quality that output is (and that they’re so willing to share it online for free).
Caleb Mulkerin and Colleen Kinsella, who as Big Blood refer to themselves as a “phantom four piece,” use the alter egos Rose Philistine and Asian Mae respectively to round out the supposed four members, and at times it does sound like there are four of them. These are for the most part busy songs, full of densely-layered instruments, apian murmuring, and frenzied vocals buried deep in the murk of the mix.
Old Time Primitives ventures further away from the acoustic strumming and male/female harmonies of their earlier work, continuing the electric sound they began with 2011’s Big Blood & The Wicked Hex. For the most part, this suits their brand of eccentric experimentation; they’d be hampered creatively, especially considering the frequency with which they release material, if limited to only acoustic instruments. This allows for some of their more interesting music to date: the hypnotic, placid “Leviathan Song pt. I,” which would be incongruous on an older album, is one of the stronger songs they’ve written, floating gracefully in the current of mid-album air.
The only missteps are a few of the longer droning songs, which falter when they begin to feel monotonous in ways that many of their previous lengthy tracks, like the 14-minute “Water” off The Wicked Hex, don’t. Album closer “Shadows of the Land” is half the length of “Water” but feels longer, while the static “Sirens Knell” doesn’t quite justify its length, building over nine minutes to amount to little.
Perhaps the album’s most interesting feature is its continual a capella renditions of truncated country classics sprinkled among the original songs. The title track begins with a tinny male voice singing Don Williams’ “She Never Knew Me” and finishes with David Houston’s “Good Things;” both sound like they were recorded over the phone. “Shadows of the Land” ends the album on a similar note, shifting from its weary gloom into an a capella snippet of Jerry Reed’s “A Thing Called Love” and then transitioning with what sounds like a tape-deck click into “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” which abruptly ends. These selections of country ballads with accompanying clicks (along with the self-referential inclusion of recording-process outtakes) seem to be Mulkerin and Kinsella inserting their authorial presences, showing us the musicians from which they’ve taken inspiration and nudging us expectantly. Despite their experimentation with music boxes, pitch-shifting, and electric instrumentation, their respect for traditional folk music remains prominent; even the title Old Time Primitives suggests they’ve allied themselves with their roughly hewn antecedents.