San Francisco hard-folk duo Two Gallants never quite became the cultural tour de force they were touted as in the mid-'00s, just after the release of their excellent sophomore LP, What the Toll Tells
. That's not to say that the band hasn't established a firm catalog of great music. Vocalist/guitarist Adam Stephens' old-soul songwriting and punk-rock panache have made for a glut of songs that are cerebral, literary, and downright rockin'. Their 2012 release The Bloom and the Blight
saw an embrace of distorted guitars and sweeping choruses, most fluently on the album's brilliant opener "Halcyon Days." The stripped-down coupling of guitar and drums—played as if employed in a thrash-metal band by percussionist Tyson Vogel—lends an authenticity and loyalty to craft that's as refreshing to see live as it is to hear on wax. RYAN J. PRADO Also see My, What a Busy Week!