Dustin Saucier and all his Sad friends

 Fox, Paper , Bastards
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  October 17, 2013

NEVER MAUDLIN Dustin Saucier and the Sad
Bastards are more mature, clear-eyed, and
honest. They should have broad appeal. |
Photo by Dustin Kelly

It’s a meta world we live in. The boundary between sincere and ironic has become so blurred that cynicism can serve as a beacon to follow. Like that saying about paranoia, it’s not pessimism if you’re always proven right.

Which makes Dustin Saucier and the Sad Bastards pretty attractive in these days of government shutdowns and radioactive fish and genetically modified everything. These Bastards deflect affectation by being unapologetic about what they’re doing: Performing heart-felt lamentations with everything they’ve got. Saucier has built upon his full-length solo debut, I Wrote a Letter, with a tight follow-up EP in Paper that shows sharpened focus and sense of purpose. He’s fully converted the throaty cries of heavy emo into an all-acoustic format that is an interesting sidebar to the indie-folk of bands like Of Monsters and Men and the Oh Hellos.

The result, especially with the ever-present cello of Kevin Oates, is like a mash-up of Peter Murphy and the Avett Brothers. There is drama galore, but it’s urgent in a kinder and gentler way. If the Avetts have a kick-drum heart, Saucier’s is an earnest woodblock.

These songs embrace the hyperbolic and romantic. “My breath stops when you walk in/My direction/Won’t you be still my heart?,” he sings in his distinctive way of phrasing and enunciating on the opening “Be Still,” with a timbre that’s increasing as he ages. Oates is in more of a supportive role than Devon Colella in Rural Ghosts, mostly providing long and winding foundation notes. Here they prop up bass by Dominic Grosso (bassist to many, including Tall Horse, In the Audience, Boxes, and Forget Forget) that isn’t so much active as interesting and tasteful, providing melody to accompany Saucier’s acoustic strum, which is primarily a rhythm instrument.

He’s a percussive player, really, and gets damn insistent on “Hold Your Tongue,” where he delivers “well surely you could try to pin the blame on someone else” as accusatorily as possible.

Elizabeth Taillon provides a mid-song verse that actually sits lower than Saucier’s pitch, making her seem like the voice of reason: “Try to understand/My words, they are not second hand.” She finishes with a hummed bit that is echoed by engineer Jon York into backing vocals that are just delicate enough to not be overbearing.

This, and parts in “Home” and bonus track “Over the Sea” where Saucier’s vocals get awful bright and really push the levels, makes the EP as a whole work better through the stereo speakers than in the headphones. It lets the cello fill the room, too, where in the headphones it can be claustrophobic, like the tones are swelling and wrapping around your head.

Surely, that’s on purpose, though. Saucier and the Bastards revel in overpowering you with emotion. “I have this habit,” Saucier leads “Over the Sea,” “of wearing my heart on my sleeve . . . but I do it so gracefully.”

And he does. The frequent “oooh-ooh” lyrics, the light mandolin strums in “Feigning Fight,” the balance between urgency and enunciation and weight he finds in “The Fox and the Rabbit,” all have an appropriately light touch that shows Saucier knows the difference between evoking emotion and being straight-up maudlin. He is never that on these six songs, where he may have visited that territory once or twice on his first album.

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