‘The Civil Wars’ bittersweet rise to number one - Tucson Local Media: Liven Up

‘The Civil Wars’ bittersweet rise to number one

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Evan Hofmann

Posted: Wednesday, August 21, 2013 4:00 am

It seems only fitting that a musical duo currently in such a tempestuous state would perform under a name with such violent context, but “The Civil Wars” have enraptured listeners across the globe regardless. Musicians Joy Williams and John Paul White recently struck gold with their sophomore self-titled release, selling 116,000 copies in their first week and claiming the number one spot on the Billboard charts. The folk/soft rock album has buried competition such as Now 47, Robin Thicke, and Jay Z, despite not being backed by any heavy promotion or touring. The lack of promotion is due to the fact that The Civil Wars parted ways months before the album’s completion, making the extensive success bittersweet. Though the band has not officially broken up, they canceled a European tour and elected to take an indefinite hiatus as a result of “internal discord and irreconcilable differences of ambition”. In other words, Williams and White no longer share the same vision and have not spoken in months. 

The group’s long-term disbandment is unfortunate, as they have proven that they produce infectious music together. The new album, though not overly ground breaking to the music world, is a testament to the evolution of both musicians. Williams and White were not content to produce an unimaginative continuation of their first release, Barton Hallow, which sold 36,000 copies in it’s first week and earned two Grammy awards. Instead, The Civil Wars brought a new bag of tricks to the fray by texturizing their sound with more electronic instruments as well as lap steel guitars, mandolins, organs, overdubs, and other methods and mechanisms for making their second album more full and fleshed out than the first. This is not to say that the album lacks the charm of it’s older counterpart. The lovely harmonies between singers are still present, as are the listener friendly melodies and song structures. 

Unfortunately for The Civil Wars, at least some of the attention from fans and critics has shifted from healthy appreciation for a solid sophomore release, toward speculations about the bands fallout. Reviewers have dissected each lyric, analyzed each note, and searched for clues as to what caused the demise of the rising star that was The Civil Wars. 

It is true that the newest Civil Wars production is more musically aggressive, that the vocals of White and Williams almost seem to compete rather than collaborate, and that the majority of the lyrics are about lost love, but one does not need to study the undertones in so meticulous a manner to a decision on whether or not these are hidden messages or clues pertaining to the bands turmoil.  The hiatus is a common tale amongst musicians. Perhaps it is an illusion that artists and creative geniuses can share a voice for an extensive amount of time. Eventually visions conflict and individual goals surface. After all, could Claude Monet and Auguste Renoir really have shared the same canvas long enough to create a lasting masterpiece? But The Civil Wars have found success as the sum of individual parts in the past. Joy Williams and John Paul White share an electricity on the stage and in the studio. And after the immense success and acclaim that their new album has generated, there must be at least a few reasons why the band should reunite, in fact there are about 116,000 and counting. 

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