“Lawrence” by Floodgate Operators

There is scarcely a moment in the new single “Lawrence” from Colorado-based bluegrass outfit Floodgate Operators in which the powerful glow of the string play isn’t more powerful than the lead vocal at the center of the mix, and while this might change the method of communication from conventional to clandestine, it’s what ultimately sets the tone for the entire song. “Lawrence” is a piece built more on the strength of its harmonies than it is anything linguistic this band has to offer, which is telling considering the depth of their poetic capabilities both here and in other cuts within their discography.

Floodgate Operators challenge themselves with a tempo that puts more pressure on the main melody than is really necessary, and although there’s a case to be made that this arrangement isn’t nearly as fluid as it would have been in a straight-up live performance, I don’t find this to be the main showcase in the song. Instead, this is more about suggesting the framework and potential these players have only started tapping into following the release of their debut EP, Drought Driven Days. To me, that record was the beginning – this is a good statement on their future.

There’s an essential warmth to the relationship between the different string parts in this track that makes it seem as though they’re going to come ripping through the speakers just to lash us around the next angular corner in the groove, and yet there’s never any real aggression showcased within the tempo or the actual melodic substance of the music. Instead, I love the way this band can take something relatively pastoral and transform it into a vehicle for angst and passions otherwise relegated to a much more up-tempo piece of material.

New Mexico Winds

Listen to New Mexico Winds on Spotify. Floodgate Operators · Single · 2022 · 1 songs.

This is contrast epitomized, and still, there’s such an evenness to the music that we’re never really listening to something markedly more rigid nor experimental in comparison to what the mainstream has to offer right now. Although Floodgate Operators have a lot of rebellious tendencies about them, there’s really nothing here to suggest that they dare to be different solely for the sake of remaining outsiders. If anything, this is just a proper representation of who they are as one creative force.

If you haven’t listened to Floodgate Operators yet, or if you dropped off with 2020’s Drought Driven Days, “Lawrence,” as well as its predecessors in “Pieces on the Floor” and “New Mexico Winds” makes for a fine introduction to what the band is up to right now and, perhaps even more importantly, what the sum of their aesthetical focus is. From where I sit, these guys are on top of one of the more streamlined yet effective takes on Rocky Mountain-style bluegrass that you’re going to hear coming out of the Colorado scene at the moment, and those who would argue against as much probably haven’t listened to “Lawrence” just yet. It’s a bar-raising performance from a group that, in all honesty, is just beginning to hit its stride.

Clay Burton