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The Drowning Men: All of the Unknown (Borstal Beat) 

The Drowning Men are trying for a lot of things at once: The Oceanside, Calif., quintet blend folk, stately indie rock, dark subject matter, occasional bursts of punk energy and more. It's hit and miss, but All of the Unknown offers a lot of quality songs.

click to enlarge cd1.jpg

"Lost in a Lullaby" opens the band's second album with a folky mandolin strum, but adds in a sharp electric guitar and walloping rhythm section almost immediately. "The Waltz" is almost gothic folk, a gruff tale of sin and redemption.

Songs like "Smile," "A Fool's Campaign" and "Questioning (A Big Ole' Sham)" bring it all together—atmospheric guitars, pounding drums and bass, and layered keyboards. That's when the band is at its best, inching toward the type of swelling indie rock advanced by Arcade Fire, but The Drowning Men stand out by going for grit rather than grandeur.

The piano-based tracks—"A Long, Long Walk" and "A Better Place"—and the quiet instrumental "Life in the Willow Tree" don't quite work as well.

Listeners' mileage will vary based on impressions of front-man Nato Bardeen's vocals and lyrics. At times, he's reaching a bit too far for the doom poetry of Nick Cave, but elsewhere, he excels with compact, vivid imagery. The Drowning Men are certainly a band to watch.

More by Eric Swedlund

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