This album is nothing if not ambitious—combine the soaring vocals of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke or Jeff Buckley and Elliott’s instrumental experimentation and you’ll have an idea of some of the reference points. It’s a headphone record in the best sense of the term; this album rewards people who own a good pair and can hear the nuances and subtleties, yet still sounds awesome on a cheap pair of speakers. The problem with this record is that while it’s ambitious and more musically complex than the average indie band, it doesn’t actually sound that different. While I wish I could take it on its own merits as a single work, it’s hard because the album sounds young—it’s not that these songs are immature so much as they are bursting with ideas, some of which seem incompletely expressed, sketches of musical brilliance which don’t necessarily last long enough to indicate whether more rewarding material lay further along down that path. Likewise, the lyrical content is all about transcendence, transformation, overcoming—the big stuff that more mature bands seem to forget as they grow older and try to describe how lives become more complex and more difficult to explain. These lyrical themes are more commonly the province of younger, less experienced and more earnest bands which haven’t yet been given sufficient opportunities to find themselves as jaded and detached as characters in a Richard Ford novel… or have somehow managed to side-step that loss of innocence and hope. I suspect that’s part of the reason why bands don’t (and, arguably, shouldn’t) last forever—the language required to describe youth is fundamentally different from that which is required to describe the transition from youth to middle age; trying to speak the old dialect seems foolish and the new one simply doesn’t translate with any significance. I recognize the language spoken here, much as I recognize Spanish being spoken after a few years away from California and several years after speaking it in any meaningful way; I can piece together what is being said here even though my conjugations are rusty, even though I don’t remember as much of the vocabulary as I used to. With all that said, even though fans of the aforementioned artists will probably find much here to like—and I’ve spent quite a bit of time appreciating this record as well—I’m curious whether the next album will show further progress and additional exploration of the more interesting musical ideas expressed here (much as Elliott’s False Cathedrals was leagues beyond U.S. Songs in its complexity and depth) or whether it will also suggest other directions that might have yielded more curious fruit.
–scott (Equal Vision)