You know you're in trouble when bloggers start resorting to cryptozoological terms to describe your long-awaited third record.
It's the boat Reubens Accomplice has found itself in regarding the fabled, 8-years-in-the making Sons of Men. Kevin Murphy at So Much Silence (one of Phoenix's most senior music blogs) referred to the record the way a late-night caller on Coast to Coast AM might, calling it "our very own sasquatch - often discussed but never seen."
Songwriter Jeff Bufano knows that such ribbing is to be expected.
"It's funny. I'm actually at the moment trying to type up a letter to post to fans [to explain the long stretch between albums]," he explains via telephone. "There's a million little things that happened. We're all getting older and we've never really made any money at this, [so] life just got in the way."
Add to the mix a national lineup (Bufano, Chris Corak are based in Phoenix, John O'Reilly in Philadelphia, Ryan Kennedy in St. Louis), a couple marriages, and some births, and it's easier to get a grasp on the 8-year gap between 2004's The Bull, the Balloon, and The Family and the newly-minted Sons of Men. But the delay wasn't just due to assuming domesticated lives.
"The more I think about it, one of the main things is that everybody in the band's always felt like a band shouldn't release a record knowing that it's really not as good as the record before it," Bufano says. "We've had this conversation: 'Do you think when a band puts out a shitty record, do they think it's awesome?' Or do they know, if you put out a record, even if it's shitty, you're going to make money? Like, 'We're going to put this out, and hopefully write a better record next year.' [Laughs]"
Sons of Men doesn't aim to top the former record's expansive grandeur, but it's by no means a restrained record: the orchestral sweeps of "I'm Leaving" and "The Losing Curse" are epic, and pedal steel swells and classic pop of closer "Less Pain Forever" (named for the Valley band of the same name) is perfectly suited for wide-screen viewing, but there's a certain rangy quality to the proceedings. "This Desert" isn't quite as scrappy as the band's debut, Blame it on the Scenery, but it's close, and the apocalyptic honky-tonk of "No Motion" trembles and quakes with gritty soul.
And unlike previous records, which featured David Bazan of Pedro the Lion, Howe Gelb of Giant Sand, Jim Adkins of Jimmy Eat World, and members of Calexico, there's no massive guest roster. Friends Jon Rauhouse, Davey von Bohlen of The Promise Ring/Maritime, and songwriter Matt Maher stop by, but the band pared down with Sons of Men.
"The first two records we wanted to have as many guests as possible because that's what was fun for us," Bufano says. "It was so fun to have people we're fans of come play. This time around, we kind of got it into our heads that maybe we should try and do as much as we can on our own. Not that there's not guests - because there definitely is - [but] instead of [saying] 'Let's have so-and-so play piano on this,' it was like, I'll just stumble through it. The take will be a little bit more raw, but [we were fine with that.]"
Sons feels like a natural record, one that comfortably maintains the trajectory of the band without sounding tired or lazy. It's cinematic pop music, and one expected benefit of the break between records is that few will use the dreaded "e" word to describe the record. It hasn't always been the case with Reubens.
"When it first came into existence, it's like, 'What does emo mean?' It's Boys Life and Christie Front Drive. And there's nothing that pop about either of those bands, and we're fans of those bands. [But] slowly, it starts evolving and by the time it hits mainstream, 'emo' means Dashboard Confessional. And it's like, 'Oh well, we're not fans of that.' Not even in a negative way; I've met those guys and they're a bunch of nice guys, but it just started to change from what it was."
Davey von Bohlen, of fellow emo survivors The Promise Ring and Maritime sings on "I Love You, But I'm Tired, creating a direct line between Sons of Men and The Promise Ring's underrated swan song, Wood/Water, released in 2002. Reubens toured with the band then, and recalls the sharp divide the record, a turn away from the chiming guitar-pop sound -- "emo" to some critics -- into more muted, subdued pop terrain.
"I got my first Promise Ring 7" at Stinkweeds, you know?" Buffano says. "We got asked to do that tour with them and The Weakerthans, [and] it was a dream tour for us. But it was so bad for the Promise Ring. No one in the audience wanted to hear anything off Wood/Water. You could tell that that band was just at this point - they were just frustrated with so many things."
But 2012 is a better time for records like Wood/Water and Sons of Men. Not that Bufano is willing to bet the farm: "I'm always dead wrong. The record I think is 'eh' becomes the smash hit single, and the record I'm like 'Oh man, this record is going to cement them as a legit, big thing' no one ever hears it."
It's unlikely that the record will go unheard. The band is gearing up for a massive party at Crescent Ballroom ("A 'home-base' for local music," Bufano says), which will find the group joined by Sam Means of The Format, Patrick Carrie of Limbeck, and Jamal Ruhe, and a short tour with gigs in Hollywood and Pomona, California. Bufano would love to take the band to Europe, where its popularity trumps that in the States. "You know how people says, 'We're big in Turkey,' or whatever? I totally get that," he laughs. "You know, it happens. They put 'from America' on fliers over there, and people get excited."
Sons of Men might inspire that same excitement in America, especially in Phoenix. The results feel immediate and direct, and, most tellingly, Bufano says that living with the record has stayed surprisingly pleasant, even given its extended gestation period.
"I know that we're proud of it, I know that we like it," he laughs. "Usually, if you live with something too long you start to hate it."
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Reubens Accomplice is scheduled to perform Friday, August 10, at Crescent Ballroom.