The Valley Forge – Rock Americana on debut EP


The Valley Forge was never supposed to be a band. When John Valley and Tyler Speicher reconnected in Austin, far from the cornfields of their childhood home in Conrad, Iowa, they didn’t set out to make an album. But Speicher had a handsome stash of recording equipment, and Valley (never one to leave a creative outlet untapped) started writing and recording, and two years later — that’s last November, for those keeping score — they wound up with this six-song EP, American Men.

Even more, The Valley Forge was never supposed to be a rock band. Yet to a great extent, American Men feels like a rock record. Valley’s tenor often goes gruff, grunge-y even, perhaps encroaching on Eddie Vedder territory when he howls in his upper register. Pounding drums, mighty refrains, and swells of church-house vocals populate a soundworld of acoustic and electric instruments, recalling the accoutrements of indie arena-rock.

Yet all of these songs could be stripped down to voice and acoustic guitar, and they’d still be folky stories about boys and girls in America. They recall the music of Greenwich Village: rebellious and critical, teeming with urgency, yet ultimately hopeful and patriotic. At heart, this is folk, and it’s decidedly American.

Take opener “Red Oak Roy.” Valley sets a pastoral scene, singing, “Red Oak Roy’s gonna build a barn / stand it up on his old man’s farm.” His vocal melodies ring out lofty and yearning like Springsteen, and amidst foreboding spaghetti western guitar, it sounds like nostalgia for the western frontier. Likewise, note the American Indian flutes and Civil War snare used elsewhere, as well as the explicit ‘merica-flak of the (standout) title track.

Altogether, this is an engrossing and cohesive debut from a budding local band, a deceivingly poppy, insidiously catchy bit of rock Americana. Be warned, though: if you catch them live, know that this more-or-less self-recorded EP has birthed a different beast, a stripped-down, amped-up three-piece with Valley standing at center stage beating on drums, Speicher on electric guitar, and new addition Sarah German holding it down on bass. Expect a second EP from these guys in the not-too-distant future.

– Kevin Allen