Settling Down with Owen: Of Empty Bottles, Tourniquets, and… Hope? (King of Whys, 2016)

In 2011’s Ghost Town Mike Kinsella (Owen) sang his credo in “I Believe”:

Hallelujah! I just found Jesus
Swimming at the bottom
Of the bottle I keep crawling out of
He said, “You look familiar, but I can’t place your face”
I said, “You look like hell” and that we used to hang
At my mother’s request

On the one hand, it’s a post-Catholic-upbringing, anti-religious declaration of sorts.

Have I been saved?
Cause I feel the same:
Dirty and tired

Can I be saved?
Without having changed
Or remorse for what I don’t believe?

On the other hand, I can see an honest Christian praying those words. He prays on:

I offer up my humble soul
And my broken spirit
All those things that I can’t control
The intangible bullshit
To you, my Lord

I know he’s being sarcastic (right?), but it’s hard not to hold out hope that one of my all-time favorite artists would really mean words like that, words which sound like David or Paul, and which capture the essence of some of my own prayers.

The rest of the song seems to clarify, however:

I believe
There is no white light
Somebody’s mistaken
Or somebody lied

I believe
There’s only one truth
It resonates different
In me and you
So don’t try and sell me yours

I think that last line–“so don’t try to sell me yours”–is the song’s interpretive key. The prayers were just at his “mother’s request,” and didn’t really work if he’s still feeling “the same: dirty and tired.” The prayer to “you, my Lord” is in scare quotes.

Whatever he meant, the song, “I Believe” is one of my favorite Owen tracks out of his 9 full-length albums and handful of EPs in the last 15 years.

 


 

Owen King of Whys Cover

 

Five years later the first track on the just-released King of Whys is “Empty Bottle.” The song presumably refers to the Chicago concert venue with that name (“Empty Bottle / crowded goth show”). But the connection to “I Believe” is inescapable, as it borrow’s the older song’s melody from the line “Hallelujah! I just found Jesus!” I would have thought this move subconscious were it not also for the similarly of the “empty bottle” to “the bottom of the bottle” in “I Believe.”

Now Owen has found the transcendence he was looking for, it seems, in interpersonal connection:

You’ve got a lot of nerves
Will you please touch mine with yours?

This is, after all, the album of a man now married and with kids.

“Empty Bottle” is as close as an acoustic guitar will get you to headbanging. By the end of the track, the album is already set to be as lush, intricate, and ethereal as anything Owen has done.

Next is “The Desperate,” where the familiar palm-muted acoustic guitar soon gives way to some dreamy pedal steel–the first discernible mark of S. Carey’s production (Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens). The song includes violins, piano, and poignant coming-of-age lyrics:

Somehow all of the sudden I find myself struggling
Two lives are too much and not enough
I concede this childish need for attention
is the desperate act of a disappearing man
You’d better catch him while you can

What a mess
Past and present stitched together, perilously tethered I ain’t fooling anyone (least of all me)

He continues with his signature combination of the clever and the mildly profane:

I’m calling in sick forever
and I’m calling bullshit on everyone

His next line–“This is a test and I’m failing”–seems like an antiphon to Pedro the Lion’s “If this is only a test, I hope that I’m passing.” The music is sweet and textured.

The song concludes:

You were right, Babe
I love how you know me
I know how you love me
I know how you long for this song to end

Owen is “Settled Down” now, which he explores in a track with more interlocking and arpeggiated guitars, accompanied with some sweet kick drum work. As this song concluded, on my first listen, I knew this album was among his best work. (Multiple listens through have confirmed the assessment.)

And then “Lovers Come and Go,” came on. I felt how I did the first time I listened to Owen’s 2001 self-titled debut. I don’t know if it’s the strings or the electric guitar overlays or the subtle but steady bass and drums, but it’s the kind of euphoric high that has kept me bobbing my head to emo well into my mid- to late-30s. Maybe I should have grown out of it by now, but songs like this only encourage me.

“Tourniquet” sounds at first like the kind of overly effusive, heart-on-the-sleeve, lyrical navel-gazing that got/gets me made fun of for listening to this kind of music: “This tourniquet hasn’t stopped the bleeding yet.”

But give him a chance:

If you give me this battle
I’ll pretend like there isn’t a lifetime of bitterness inside of me
An ugliness I hide from you
Give me that goddamn bottle and then leave me alone

Then there is the entrance of the horn parts. Over the song’s gorgeous layers, Owen sings:

This tourniquet hasn’t stopped the bleeding yet
I fear that I might lose a limb
Or a wife
Or whatever’s left inside

The closing words…

This tourniquet hasn’t stopped the bleeding yet
I fear that I might bleed out

…suggest that the song really is about marriage and fear of one’s self in the context of a long-term commitment. Melodramatic? Possibly. More vulnerable than many songwriters? Definitely.

Owen’s back catalogue is full of not-exactly-pro-feminist references to women. Owen is not Mark Kozelek-level misogynistic, but at least the persona of some of his songs veers towards womanizing territory. Too many to list here, but songs like “Poor Souls” (from his 2002 No Good for No One Now) have likely made listeners wonder what songwriting on the other side of marriage would be like. “Tourniquet” offers a glimpse.

Whatever else one could think about it, Owen is raw in articulating the wayward human condition, and how even marriage does not quell a wandering heart. (It might take finding Jesus to do that.) “Tourniquet” called to mind one of CCM’s most striking numbers: Amy Grant’s “Faithless Heart” of 1988, a song that caught her much flack from an unforgiving (and often disingenuous) Christian music industry. Like Grant’s confession, “Tourniquet” is a tough song to listen to but an important one.

 


 

“Burning Soul” represents a years-later take on an alcoholic father: “He wasn’t a saint, but he wasn’t a bad man.” Like his father before him, Owen sings,

Now I’ve got a burning soul
What now?
Both ends of my prayer candle are burned out

“Sleep Is a Myth,” the second-to-last track, starts out fatalistic:

Is this how you say, “Mon coeur bat la chamade?
Which pills did I take?
Were those bills ever paid?

Sleep is a myth
Believed but never witnessed by me

The spider bites are back
The eggs have finally hatched

But as the song progresses (and as the layers of vocals start to build), hope comes to the fore:

Don’t worry about the money
We’ll get by or we won’t
You look better hungry
You wear your weary eyes well
Now give me everything and then some
Bring out what’s dead and dying in your troubled head
Your lifeless body will awaken

Then the song moves into a nice, long, instrumental groove. The distorted drums and almost-shoegazing lead guitar line and choral vocals are a new sweet spot for Owen and company.

The album’s final track, “Lost,” is also its first single.

I winced at:

Stay poor and die trying
Take the drugs I didn’t take
Lay the whores I didn’t lay cause I was too afraid that I might like it

Kinsella sings to “the last of [his] feral friends.” Could the “friend” be his former self? Subtle allusions to previous Owen lyrics make it possible.

You may be wondering where all this wandering leads
You’re lost but at least you’ve nowhere to be and no one to leave you

The album closes on an odd note:

You may be wandering driveway to driveway drunk
A ghost without a house to haunt
The last of my feral friends, I know you’re lonely
but don’t waste your breath telling me that you want what I have
No one believes you

If this song is autobiographical (today’s Kinsella singing to yesterday’s Kinsella: “I see you but you can’t see me”), it’s a dour note to end on. Is he saying he really didn’t want the settled life? If he’s singing to a friend, there is the faintest hint of affirmation of the “settled down” lifestyle the artist has chosen (“you want what I have”), even while he knows “no one believes” his friend.

Musically the song never resolves to the tonic, so maybe the cliffhanger effect is on purpose.

After the strength of the first six tracks, I was hoping for something more final and summative at the end of the album, but maybe tension is how it has to end for Owen.

 


 

The horns and string and pedal steel on the album will leave you wanting that instrumentation on many Owen songs to come. His songwriting is as good as ever. And King of Whys is hands-down the best-produced Owen album to date.

Owen’s 2001 full-length record–his first–is still the benchmark against which I measure all of his albums. More than any other effort to date, King of Whys evokes the beauty of that first record. It’s a pleasure to listen to, and probably his most consistently good one since his debut. I’m already eager to hear where he’ll go next.

 

Purchase info: Amazon / iTunes / Polyvinyl

 

Thanks to the musical powers-that-be, who sent me an early download of the album so I could review it.

Bill Mallonee’s Slow Trauma

The 1:06 opening track, “One & the Same,” serves as a Prelude to Bill Mallonee’s most recent album–Slow Trauma–asking:

What you hold onto and what you let go of
and what you should give away
What’s gonna save you and what makes you smile?
Sometimes, they are one and the same

Then the full band kicks in with a sweet folksy rock groove in “Only Time Will Tell.” (“Where it’s all going? Only time will tell.”) And by full band, I mean: Bill Mallonee on vocals, guitars, bass, and drums. This is something like his 74th album (!), and I only learned an album or two ago that drums are his first instrument.

Before I say any more about this top-notch record, here’s Mr. Mallonee from an essay he wrote that serves as liner notes:

Death. Cessation.
A component of my interior world.
I feel like I’ve been staring it down in one form or another all of my life.
I’ve been “institutional material” once or twice.
It has certainly shaped my melancholy temperament and driven my art in noticeable ways.

I know some movements across the spectrum of human history have glorified it, romanticized it, even reveled in it…
Death. What’s to revel in?
Me? I don’t see it that way. At all.
I think it’s more like an aberration.
A blasphemy.
God, damn it. (That’s a prayer. Not an expletive.)

The third track, “Waiting for the Stone to be Rolled Away” has a great groove, too. It’s a resurrection song, written “from the parking lot of the Holy Spirit Assembly.” Mr. Mallonee takes the listener “down these sad, back streets of doubt to a new and brighter day / waiting for the stone to be rolled away.” (He does it with a killer harmony part, too.)

Slow TraumaIn this third track begins a trend that Mr. Mallonee thankfully repeats throughout the album: just when you get fully into the groove and expect the song to end, he goes another minute with some instrumental rocking out. I love this album for that. He takes his time with the songs. He comes to say what he needs to say, then lets the music do the rest of the talking, helping the listener mull it all over.

Even the album’s less remarkable songs (there are only two I would even begin to consider fast-forwarding on Listen #47) are only so because the others are so good.

“WPA/When I Get to Where They’re Taking Us,” the fifth track, has a really punchy lead guitar line that will stay with you for days. Mr. Mallonee is as gifted a guitarist as he is a songwriter.

Track six, “Ironclad,” is another highlight, closing with a melodic guitar riff you wouldn’t think possible on someone’s 70th (give or take a few) album! (How does he still do it? No idea, but I’m glad he does.)

The closing number, “That Last Hill,” is my favorite song on the album and one of his more poignant tracks in his massive catalogue:

will my highbeams flood the plain?
will the gatekeeper know my name
will there be someone to claim me for his own?

Even though that song is nearly five minutes, I could have listened to it for ten more. Throughout the album Mr. Mallonee offers beauty and a sure hand to help the listener think through difficult themes of death, life, loss, living, and giving.

The last words belong to the liner note essay:

“He Is Risen,” goes the Easter liturgy.
And you & I, the stumbling, wayward congregation of the spiritually poor, blind, sin-sick and lame respond:
“He Is Risen, Indeed!”
I’m there.

After hearing this record the listener will want to heed Mr. Mallonee’s call:

Do your part, in your corner and among your friends, to kick at the darkness and at death itself.

Slow Trauma is available here.

 


 

Thanks to Bill Mallonee for the opportunity to review this excellent record. It got me through my last handful of hour-long commutes to seminary last spring! He’s got a new record already in the works, which you can see here.

Psalm Songs: The Best New Worship Music You Might Not Have Heard Yet

I wrote about the Psalms as descriptive and prescriptive not long ago:

The writers of the Psalms give language to the whole range of emotions: from gratitude to fear, from joy to lamentation, from petition to thanksgiving, from intimate, private prayers to national, corporate prayers. In this way they are eminently descriptive of the human experience.

The Psalms also prescriptively guide the reader into various postures of prayer, so that the one praying does not only ever approach God with petitions, or only ever with complaint, and so on. The cognitive and affective come together in the Psalms in sometimes unexpected ways. Psalms of lament, for example, often begin with a loud “Why?” (stressing the affective) yet end with a determined profession of faith like, “But I will trust in you still….” In this way they stress the use of cognitive powers in prayer—external life evidence notwithstanding!

The Psalms express (descriptively) and call forth (prescriptively) a whole spectrum of human experience in relationship to God. They teach us to bring our whole selves to God in worship.

There comes a point in biblical studies when one has to say, I guess we’ll never know. That’s especially true with possible musical settings of Israel’s Psalms (careful efforts notwithstanding). So when it comes to music today for the Psalms, the Church (and before that, the synagogue) has had to make the way by walking.

 

*    *    *    *    *

 

A few months ago I received an email from Adam Wright, a church worship leader in Alabama and primary force behind The Corner Room. He introduced me to his band’s Psalm Songs, Volume 1. I’ve heard Scripture set to music in ways that were helpful and edifying, as well as ways that were… well… not. I was getting ready to reply with what I usually need to say, which is that I’m behind on existing reviews and need to take a pass on writing about this record. But then I listened and found myself spending at least a half hour at his site. Months later the record is still on regular rotation at our house and during my sermon preparation sessions and in our car.

 

Adam Wright (image via The Corner Room)
Adam Wright (image via The Corner Room)

 

Each of the album’s ten tracks sets a Psalm to full-band music. Adam writes, “As the Psalms are diverse in their character and intent, so is the musical character of this collection – rock, folk, bluegrass and modern worship are genres you’ll hear on this first volume.” Not only that, the kinds of Psalms represented are wonderfully diverse. The album covers a broad range: from the Psalm of Ascent (121) to the pastoral Psalm (23) to the lament Psalm (42)–and that’s just the first three tracks!

Adam’s voice on the record is perfect. It’s smooth but not overly saccharine, strong but not abrasive, and his soaring tenor has me singing in my falsetto just to try to keep pace. He calls to mind Chris Thiele, not just in terms of vocal timbre, but also in his ability to effortlessly cover different styles of music. If Adam will forgive my mild Hoosiers obsession, I can say that he’s as good a songwriter, musician, and band leader as Jimmy Chitwood is a ball player.

 

Jimmy Chitwood Hoosiers
Psalm Songs: Like This Guy’s Shooting Set to Music

 

The musicianship on Psalm Songs is as good as it gets. The band is tight and the instrument parts all fit together well–from mandolin to guitar to fiddle to bass and drums. The multi-part harmonies so characteristic of bluegrass will have you singing along as soon as you know the song.

 

*    *    *    *    *

 

psalm songs vol 1_itunes imageThe album takes the Psalms verbatim from the English Standard Version. The ESV is not my all-time favorite translation–I will probably always take issue with the generic Hebrew or Greek word for human being translated as “man.” But that version is more fluildy poetic than I expected for the Psalms. Rare is the moment on the album when the words feel shoehorned into the music–the settings do the Psalms great justice.

Psalm 23 has been set to music so many times, one might wonder how it could be done well again. But the second track is poignant and uplifting all at once. It’s got a moving video, too:

 

 

The other two videos at this page are pretty awesome, too.

One of Adam’s driving motivations, by the way, is to help people memorize Scripture via these musical settings. I’ve found the music helpful to that end, for sure.

I could go on about how much I like this record (and my three kids are big fans, too, especially of the opening Psalm 121). But go listen for a few minutes and I suspect you’ll have the same reaction I did, that this is an album you’ll not only want to own, but will also want to get a few copies of so you can give away to others.

Check out The Corner Room’s site here. You can also get Psalm Songs on iTunes (link) and Amazon (link).

 


 

I received Psalm Songs, Volume 1 free for the purposes of review–I’ve already given away my hard copy but am happily still listening to an electronic copy.

Bill Mallonee’s Lands & Peoples: Review and Ruminations

Bill Mallonee is a man of many albums–some 80 by the last count.

His 2015 album Lands & Peoples begins with a folksy steel-string guitar and upright bass, lifted up to the stratosphere by ambient loops in the background.

Then, before you know it, it’s all about that bass and Mr. Mallonee’s tried and true vocals:

Somewhere between a border town and outside Santa Fe
Where the moonlight casts her heavy sigh and sent me on my way
You learn to trust the compass stars woven in her hair
And you learn to read the poetry hanging in the thin air

This has to be autobiographical. How else could a songwriter produce so many meaningful lyrics, album after album after album? He finds them “hanging in the thin air”–the secret revealed.

Why, then, is Mr. Mallonee still “a drifter”? The music industry embraced him at one time, especially through the commercial success he experienced with Vigilantes of Love. (Yes, I even remember hearing them on the radio!) Mr. Mallonee, however, still has friends in earthy places:

Should you become a drifter, the Good Earth is your friend
And you learn to read her language till the bitter end

His vulnerability on the first song is what his listeners have come to expect and love about his music:

There was a Rosary on the rearview; this time it went unsaid
But, if Love gets the last word, maybe, I’ll be “ok.”

After the opening confessional, Lands & Peoples moves into the grooving “Hide Me in the Darkness,” a song where the upbeat tempo and its closing lines are a mismatch:

Just look on the bright side…just tend to your homestead
Just look on the dark side…plow’s broke and the horses are dead

But this is Bill Mallonee, gosh darnit, so the juxtaposition is surely intentional. It does not go unnoticed by the careful listener.

I think my favorite track on the album is “Steering Wheel is a Prayer Wheel,” which calls to mind everything I loved about Winnowing, his previous full-length album. And have I mentioned how much I like the drumming on this album, at its best on this fourth track? Who does it, you ask? You guessed it–Mr. Mallonee himself, the same one who sings/prays:

There’s only so much you can freight on your heart’s shaky scaffold
And the steering wheel is a prayer wheel on the open road

Mallonee-Lands and PeoplesOne of Mr. Mallonee’s enduring gifts is being able to turn on a dime from a heart-wrenching tune like “String of Days” to the gratitude-laced “Sangre de Christos.” The former is an addict’s lament, bemoaning the “losing streaks” that go “on for miles.” But he follows it with a prayer of appreciation uttered “under the blue skies.”

For Mr. Mallonee, it seems, life is all of one piece–ups and downs, joys and sorrows, laments and thanksgivings. All of it is as “poetry hanging in the thin air,” and he continues to pull it out, jot it down, and sing it like he means it–because he does. I love that about him.

I found myself having a hard time hanging in there with the second half of the album, but even so, there are more gems:

There’s a story that I’m writing
Would you help me hold the pen?
On every page you will shine just like a star
And if that deck is stacked?
We’ll just laugh and leave the table
And leave the dealer all alone there in the dark

And then “Hope the Kids Make it Out” came on, the second to last track. Ah, those interlocking guitars! The pulsing bass, the perfectly toned drums… the rock and roll. That’s one of my favorite Bill Mallonee songs in the last decade.

I still have a preference for Winnowing, perhaps in part because I randomly stumbled on it late one Friday night, not having kept abreast of Mr. Mallonee’s catalogue for some time. I stayed up and listened to the whole thing all the way through, a moment of being-ministered-to that I needed then. So perhaps it’s unfair to compare this newer full-length to that work of genius, but so it goes.

One way or the other, Lands & Peoples is pretty easily a top 10 Bill Mallonee record, through and through. (About how many artists can you say their album is one of their best 10… and it be a compliment?) That he covers so much territory–drums, vocals, guitars, bass, etc.–makes it all the richer a listen, musically and lyrically.

You can learn more about the album, read the lyrics, and listen and download here.

 


 

My sincerest thanks to the musical powers that be, who gave me the album to download for review, but with no expectation as to the content of my write-up.

New Teen Daze Music! New Teen Daze Music! New…

Teen Daze Célébrer

I’d never heard of Teen Daze before last August. His/their Morning World was one of my favorite new releases in a very long time.

Today I received an email that there is more Teen Daze music. I’m listening to each of these mini-releases, song by song. The feel of the lead single “Célébrer” is pretty different from Morning World, even different from his other more synth-heavy stuff. But it’s pretty sweet.

Here–I’ll just quote a chunk of the email/press release, since it hyperlinks to all the songs. Enjoy!

After releasing last year’s full length, Morning World, Teen Daze has announced that 2016 will see the release of several new, dance-oriented singles.  The first, Célébrer, is already available to stream and download.  Along with the single, you can dive into the first episode of Célébrer Radio, a new, hour long mix series, featuring 60 mins of upbeat dance music.

In other new release news, Teen Daze has contributed a new song to the latest alaya. compilation.  The serene, spacious track, Narrow Road, Too Deep, was created in several different countries and was inspired by “cyclonic weather in Northern Australia, the great new age artist Laraaji, and humid days exploring the labyrinth of Hatsudai, a neighbourhood in Tokyo.”

On top of all of this, there have been two new Teen Daze remixes that have dropped in the last two months.  Check out the dreamy rework of Japanese Wallpaper’s beautiful song, Forces, and the dance floor-ready edit of Drake’s Hotline Bling.

Mediac: This Is The Most Serene Republic in 2015

 

IMG_0137

 

The first half-minute of ambience that opens Mediac took me right back to the first time I listened to The Most Serene Republic’s fantastic debut Underwater Cinematographer. I have my sister-in-law to continue to thank for introducing me to that still-ahead-of-its-time album.

 

Unique Toronto, Unique Toronto

 

TMSR always has been and still is a band very much their own. Are there 4 members? 8? 126? It doesn’t really matter, because they all (there are actually 6) play in sync with each other, even while contributing unique lines you might not otherwise think could be combined in a single song.

That’s part of the band’s unique genius. Sometimes you’re experiencing the music as one unified groove, as in the poppy “I Haven’t Seen You Around,” Mediac’s second track, or as in “Ontario Morning,” the album’s first single. Other times you hear the instruments more disparately and have to work harder to take a song in, as in “Brain Etiquette,” the album’s second-to-last song.

TMSR is not afraid to challenge their listeners, a trait I admire in a band. What other rock sextet do you know of that routinely incorporates brass and strings as if it were second nature? Well, okay, maybe a lot do, but not this creatively. “Failure of Anger,” the sixth track, makes you wonder why you haven’t heard more banjo and electric guitar fuzz in the same song before this.

But back to the beginning for a minute.

 

TMSR Through the Years

 

Underwater Cinematographer came in 2005. And on a blog that has long since disappeared from the Internet, Phages was my 2006 Album of the Year… even though it was an EP. That’s how good these guys are. Their live show matched the energy and quality of their recordings. They were probably my favorite band of the mid-oughts, or whatever we finally ended up deciding to call that decade. Their second full-length, Population (2007), was my favorite outdoor running companion for many months.

I sort of lost touch with the band at that point, and they actually have been on hiatus themselves for the last five years. Well, they’ve worked the last four years on Mediac, but I don’t know who knew that until now.

 

PR Photo of Some Cool-Looking Dudes
PR Photo of Some Cool-Looking Dudes

 

Word Association

 

Ready for some album reviewer’s word association?

Creativity? They’ve still got it.

Quality production? Check. (Brought to you by Ryan Lenssen from the band and David Newfield, who has overseen Broken Social Scene, Super Furry Animals, and Los Campesinos!).

Memorable hooks? Done, throughout.

Lush, interweaving guitars? Yes, even if it’s not a priority as such.

Thought-provoking, critical-of-the-mainstream lyrics? Uh, yeah. In “Capitalist Waltz” (which, awesomely, is not a waltz) Adrian Jewett snarkily sings, “I’ll advertise for you,” an impulse we reviewers have to face cautiously, much as we may love the bands we write about.

In that spirit, some lyrics hit me as a little obtuse:

To fill the day with an effigy of you,

while Earth’s cigarette is freshly lit

in the modern times, the modern times.

(Et tu, Facebook? he Tweeted.)

That same song is still catchy, though:

A montage of you turning around, turning around, turning around

And, okay, I’ll admit–if I’m understanding the song right, referring to Facebook (and/or Instagram) as “Earth’s cigarette” is actually right on the money.

 

Concluding Evaluation and Where to Get Mediac

 

I’m thrilled these guys are back in action with another full-length. Their first few records showed real progression, while each being winners in their own right. Medaic is a little harder for me to know how to place in the TMSR corpus, all of which I’ve listened to. It has some real bright moments, though I didn’t initially experience it as being as cohesive or as innovative as previous efforts.

That said, if you have never listened to TMSR, they exude talent, passion, conviction, and RAWK on any album they put their hands to.

And even as I wrap up this review, some weeks after starting to listen to Mediac, it’s growing on me with each listen. I find more hooks, melodies, motifs, and layers to latch onto each time.

You probably will, too, so definitely untangle those headphones in your jeans pocket, download the album, and queue up your iPod. The Most Serene Republic is back.

Mediac releases today, November 13. You can find it on Amazon here, iTunes here, or at the band’s site here.

 


Thanks to the fine folks doing PR for TMSR, who provided me with an advance copy of the album so I could review it.

Dealer, by Foxing

Dealer by Foxing 

 

I have seen a lot of Tweets about Foxing in the last year, so when I learned they had a new album releasing, I was eager to listen and write about it. The five-piece from St. Louis put out a very good first record, The Albatross, in 2013. On Friday, Triple Crown Records, home to Caspian, released Foxing’s follow-up, Dealer.

Dealer begins with “Weave,” a gorgeous track that builds and builds and builds… until at last clean guitars give way to (just enough!) distortion. The high register of vocalist Conor Murphy calls to mind that of Copeland’s Aaron Marsh, though maybe is a little grittier. “Weave” is the easily the best song on the album and one of the best rock tracks of 2015.

On “The Magdalene,” Murphy sings, “I’m going down… with the rosary,” part of the ongoing post-Catholic sentiment the album expresses. To be clear: I don’t want to minimize someone’s actually painful experience, which the lyrics and music throughout the record seek to express in a heartfelt way. But it’s hard not to hear this and other such lyrics as anti-Catholic, which felt to me a little bit of a tired trope as I listened through.

The third track’s piano and opening lyric—“We danced naked outside of your bathroom”—marks a significant departure from the first two songs and feels like a loss of built-up momentum. What emo kid can’t empathize with the chorus’s “Future love, don’t fall apart”? But the lush and largely upbeat feel of the first tracks gives way to a more morose tone for the middle section of the album. “Night Channels” does end with a nice full-band groove, but tracks 3 through 7 (supple string arrangements of track 6, “Winding Cloth,” notwithstanding) required more patience than expected for at least this listener to engage and keep listening.

The eighth track, “Glass Coughs,” finds the band picking things back up again, especially by the end of the track. On “Eiffel” (the following song) the drums let loose shortly after the two-minute mark, making me want more of that Foxing on future recordings.

 

Concluding Thoughts and Where to Get It

 

I don’t think Dealer is an album that will be on steady repeat for me from here on out. But Dealer is getting rave reviews already, even though it just released Friday. And Foxing’s fans are of the die-hard variety. That’s a credit to the band.

For me, I loved the first two tracks and then found the album had a hard time fully re-capturing my interest after the start of the third track. But I’m open to the possibility I’m just missing something, and am willing to give it another chance.

Either way, Foxing is early in their music-making career and has a lot of people excited about what they’re doing. (And I hear their live shows bring an intense energy to the crowd.) So it’s at least worth a listen or two for you to see what you think.

Check out Dealer on Amazon here, or here at iTunes.

 


 

Thank you to the kind folks at Brixton/Triple Crown for early access to the album for review!