Southern Psych: Promised Land Sound

Promised Land Sound bring mature, confident grooves, but still keep it twangy

Nashville group Promised Land Sound roared out of the gate in 2013 with a raw and loose self-titled album, a country/garage hybrid that belied the group's membership in rock bands like Pujol, JEFF the Brotherhood and Those Darlins. It was a raucous nugget of an album, but the group's second LP, the newly released For Use and Delight, is something else entirely. The twangy frat rock textures are still there, but they're matched with psychedelic grooves, rural blues and open-ended folk. The songs are tighter, more nuanced and developed. In short, the young bucks of Promised Land Sound—all in their early 20s—have done some growing up.

"We spent a lot more time working on the songs," says bassist and vocalist Joe Scala. "The first one, we just kind of threw a bunch of ideas together. This one was more crafted. We do really like the first record, but we put more of ourselves into this record."

It's evident. Scala, along with his brother, drummer Evan Scala, guitarist Peter Stringer-Hye, keyboardist Mitch Jones, and guitarist Sean Thompson, go deep on For Use and Delight, tapping into a well of influences. "Me and Sean, we used to really love psychedelic stuff, then we got heavy into country," Scala says. "We've been revisiting what we loved about psychedelic and folk music ... the Pretty Things, the Kinks, John Fahey, Nick Drake, Skip Spence—he was a big part of it."

The varied and expanding record collection of the Promised Land Sound yielded a sprawling, but still cohesive, gem. "Otherworldly Pleasures" is a bright, spritely boogie—almost recalling the crowd pleasing indie-pop of Dr. Dog; "Through the Seasons" explores the jamming territory between the Byrds and the Dead; "Golden Child" shifts from a power pop basher into krautrock territory, pairing motorik drive with swirling, Middle Eastern fretwork. Promised Land Sound always maintains its Tennessee roots, but incorporates multiple dialects and vibes into its cosmic leaning Southern rock.

Much of the album builds on the framework established by its predecessor, but some of its most striking moments come out of nowhere. Side A closes with "Dialog," an acoustic duet between Thompson and experimental guitarist Steve Gunn. The jaunty rag features locked in interplay between the guitarists, and came about in the middle of the night at Black Dirt Studio in upstate New York. "[Gunn] got there at maybe midnight, and they spent the next three hours rehearsing," Scala says. "And the last take, four takes in, we got it, at like four in the morning. That was a blast."

As impressive as the instrumental is, it's topped by "She Takes Me There," a languid ballad that serves as Promised Land Sound's finest recording to date. With reverberating, tremolo-laden guitars and an aching vocal, it's a near perfect, swooning single, sounding like J.J. Cale gone dream pop. "Peter brought that one to the table," Scala says. "Sean was playing slide, and it just had this very quiet groove. We felt really good about it. It's the kindest song on the record."

It's the cornerstone of a mature, confident outing. Scala says the band is excited to play the new songs on the road with Natalie Prass, to get the band's road legs worked out. The record sounds made for the stage and the open road, like Highway 61 Revisited or Green River. But for all their historical antecedents, the boys of Promised Land Sound have created their own thing, and if For Use and Delight is any indication, they're going new places.

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