Having never heard this unusual trio before, I had little idea of what to expect here, so I was a little worried when opener "Last Night's Floor" turned out to be musically driven by piano and occasional trumpet over a simplistic drumbeat and sparse occurrences of faint guitars. However, despite being somewhat disparate to what I would normally listen to, I actually enjoy this. There's something about the softly sung vocals and quality songwriting that helps me get past my usual dislike of the piano as a core instrument. The end result is a generally chilled out set of songs that doesn't lack dynamics, and tends to stray from any straightforward genre tags in the process. Emo, indie rock, yeah, sure... not inaccurate descriptors by any means, but they're not wholly accurate because they don't nearly tell the entire story with this one. "No Signal" is an excellent example of what the band is capable of in its use of darker and more somber piano melodies backed by percussive thuds that build into thundering drum fills with distant screams and strange keyboard effects for a pretty significant shift in dynamics; whereas the awesome "Whatever the Cost" is a more typically structured song that opens with guitars before piano starts to once more become the driving force to change things up amidst accents of guitar riffs. And "Mothball Fleet (Counterattack)" oddly couples epic piano melodies with a mix of guitar work that's either bluesy or indie-ish in nature, swaying from abstract droning melodies to jangly chord progressions under light distortion. And what about the minimalist approach of "It's Not That Bad", using nothing but raw acoustic guitars and vocals with occasional keyboard melodies hovering in the background? Quite nice. "Playing the Martyr" is probably the most tangible song in terms of its commonplace reliance on guitars, with other more "straightforward" numbers like "Let's Throw Knives" and "First Sickness" making appearances that may appeal to those less willing to appreciate the nature of the band's approach elsewhere herein; but I definitely feel that their penchant for moody, moving melodies in the more solemn compositions is what makes the real difference here. I have no quarrels with the sound quality either. In fact I think it sounds quite nice - with dense, resonant percussion; subtle basslines; warm, well placed vocals; bright piano; and interestingly textured guitars (when they choose to appear). The mix is nice and even as well, keeping everything close knit but still allowing each instrument its own space to roam around. The odd layout is created almost entirely with collaged paper shapes and such that depict forest scenes or whatnot, and looks pretty consistent overall. Lyrically things are pretty open, hinting at both personal and occasionally political content in a way that doesn't really pin the listener down: "I'm exhausted. You're exhausted. We are both due to expire. I lie awake trembling in my sleep. These exhausted thoughts. Waking dead couples fresh from defeat..." Not the kind of thing that I could listen to terribly often, but again, I do enjoy this. I wouldn't mind were piano used a little less often, I admit it, but... it's no small feat for the band to have fallen on my good side the way that they have considering the abundance of the instrument. There are definitely some truly moody songs here that suggest even better strengths to come from this band's talents. Certainly creative stuff...
Running time - 37:35, Tracks: 12
[Notable tracks: No Signal, Whatever the Cost, First Sickness, It's Not That Bad]
Deep Elm Records - http://www.deepelm.com