Roemer is a stripped-back acoustic/indie folk project. If you’re anything like me, folk has to be some really special to catch my attention—a quirky vocal style, effective use of harmonies, skilful playing, or best of all hard-hitting and/or poignant lyrics. If it has one or more of those, I’m more likely to pay attention.
Straight Bars and Guns was written from an outsider looking in. Much like myself, Roemer is an American citizen living abroad. He in Berlin, me in the south of England. Being an American who doesn’t actually live in the United States gives one an interesting take—neither more nor less accurate, just different. Like the difference between someone standing outside an aquarium and another person jumping in. Either vantage point has its benefits.
Roemer’s voice is mildly reminiscent of David Gray’s husky croon, but the pop polish of White Ladder isn’t found on Straight Bars and Guns. Instead we have raw folk songs accompanied by an acoustic guitar and embellished by strings, acoustic bass and some interesting use of percussion. In fact, it may be the most fascinating aspect of this release. More on that in a moment, but first let’s talk about the libretto of the EP.
Observations on American life include musings on gun violence, divisive politics, morality, war, and Christian devotion, to name but a few. And as vitriolic a formula as that might sound, Roemer isn’t trying to convince anyone of his “side.” He merely wants to have conversation. Conversation seems to be a lost art in the American scene where shouting matches over social media are a daily occurrence.
So let’s talk about this percussion. As part of the conversation mentioned above, beats are kept not with elaborate drum sets, nor drum machines, but sampled sounds taken from weapons of war. Yes, you read that right. Instead of snare or kick drum, you hear empty gun casings hitting the floor. Instead of high hat and cymbals, you hear the digital countdown of a bomb that’s about to detonate. Gunfire, cannons, and chopping wood with an axe. Heavy stuff indeed. (I should add, in fairness, that there are some more traditional percussion forms from time to time as well.)
But there’s an irony here that can’t be missed. Straight Bars and Guns is a beautiful listen. You know it’s a bomb countdown, but it doesn’t invoke fear. It just makes you want to listen more. Makes you want to listen more intently to those with whom you disagree. Makes you want to look deep into the eyes of a stranger and see what lies beyond those windows of the soul, socially-distanced of course.
Harmonized Sounds has also produced a short video that shows an in-depth look at the making of the album and the thought processes behind it. It’s a fascinating twelve-and-a-half minutes, and highly recommended. See links below for more information.