Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Current Leaves: Pastense

There are a lot of reasons that I don't want to write this review right now, including the fact that I am depressed over a heartbreaking, season ending Mavericks loss. But I suppose that this might actually be the best time to do it, since being depressed and heartbroken seems to compliment the sad and dreamy songs on Current Leaves' impressive debut quite well. And although my depression might be useful for writing this piece (see, I wrote a whole paragraph about it), I didn't need the Mavericks to lose in order to appreciate just how good this record is.

In an attempt to find a "theme" or something to tie this review together (other than the game), I decided to try to read as much as I could about Current Leaves, including Noah Bailey's review of Pastense for the Observer. In it, he makes several references to Gram Parsons' apparent influence on Current Leaves' sound, which was initially annoying because I had planned to write about the same thing. For some reason, the name Gram Parsons came to mind upon first hearing this record, and I figured it might be a pertinent comparison to make, even though I didn't think much about why. Luckily however, a few subsequent listens revealed that Pastense doesn't actually sound a whole hell of a lot like Parsons (at least his solo work) at all, and frankly I'm happy about that, because there are enough Parsons imitators in Texas to keep us all happy.

Current Leaves' music is certainly country influenced, but they aren't really a "country band" by any measure beyond their basic set of underlying influences. Sure, there is a good deal of lonesome highway heartache and even a few slide guitars present throughout many of their songs, but this aspect of their sound doesn't ever seem to take center stage or get in the way, as it often does with "alt country" groups that utilize their influences in an overly academic or tongue in cheek manner. Instead, Current Leaves' shimmering, 60's psyche influenced guitars (yeah yeah, I know, the Byrds) and Aaron White's confident yet fragile vocals immediately stand out and steal the show, pushing most comparisons and spot the influence games out the window. Yes, the twang is there, and those that like such things will truly enjoy the restrained and simple way in which Current Leaves present it. Those that don't really care for country, however, will likely not think too much about it once they dig into these songs a couple times, considering that they are primarily psychedelic pop tunes that merely nod in country music's general direction with a self awareness that lends them emotional depth instead of taking it away.

The album begins with two of its three strongest songs, as opener "13 Hours" sets the tone with lush, airy and bright guitar parts that float in a sea of reverb but stay bold enough carry the rhythm, while "Easy to Leave" establishes the band's ability to write instantly accessible and memorable pop songs without compromising one bit of the emotion that is found in some of their slower, less straight forward numbers. Really, "Easy to Leave" is pretty much an instant classic, with its chorus of "Its easy to leave/ but its hell to stay gone" assuring its presence in your head for days. It is the most straight forward country track on the album, but it is also the most effective because it touches on Americana without surrendering to its constraints.

Elsewhere, "Fought A Bear" recalls Pavement's "Father to a Sister of a Thought" with haunting echo slide guitars and thoughtful but controlled vocals, which reminds me: as a vocalist and lyricist, Aaron White is quite compelling if not exactly groundbreaking, with a range and tone that falls somewhere between Stephen Malkmus and Stephen Merrit, and a streak of lovesickness, regret and introspection that certainly leans more towards the latter. All of the qualities that make Current Leaves (and White) effective seem to come together almost perfectly in "Kill All Your Babies," which starts off as a dark, minimal and hollow sounding ballad but builds ever so subtly into a subdued but inspiring fortress of sad reverb and religious lyrics that instantly strikes a bittersweet chord as the album's emotional and musical center. Like many of the songs on Pastense, it is easy to listen to but never becomes boring because it isn't straight forward enough to immediately run its course.

Perhaps the most exciting thing about this record is that just about anyone can enjoy it, and since Current Leaves are starting to get a little more press these days, just about anyone might actually find this out for themselves. It is a great reminder that there are in fact local bands out there that are capable of making records that are enjoyable because they are accessible, but also because they are well crafted, exciting, and artistically sound. Country, psyche, sadness, memorable lyrics, Byrds comparisons, and music that is compelling without being all that innovative. Shit, I guess it kind of does sound like Gram Parsons. And I guess I kind of sound like Noah Bailey.

"Easy to Leave" MP3

(FYI, our rating system is based on a total of five possible stars)


Blogger tex winters said...

yeah yeah yeah

3:19 AM  
Anonymous Gary P. Anonymous with an "f" said...

Wow. very cool. Thanks for the heads up on this. It's excellent.

8:48 AM  
Anonymous Adub said...

Thanks for the review - it's quite thoughtful!

12:16 PM  
Anonymous delmore said...

its like falling in love all over again ;( :)!

1:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

5 stars!

Don't they have another album coming out soon?

4:09 PM  
Anonymous anonymous#1230 said...

Very solid but as a big Byrds/Burritos/Gram fanatic I would compare it more to the IRS years of REM. Don't take that as a knock either and I realize the Gram comparison probably wasn't meant to be taken entirely too literal but it's similar to comparing Dwyane Wade to Michael Jordan at this point. ;)

I look forward to hearing more.

4:13 PM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

hmmm.... good point on the REM thing. I can't believe I didn't even think about that.

4:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

completely beautiful. i feel lik he's singing to me.

10:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey! wsjr Sells out! Glen must have sucked a couple dicks and a Scott Porter band too? Too much.

11:37 PM  
Anonymous samantha m said...

not a Scott Porter band - give it an unbiased listen. it's totally worthy. how can it be selling out when it's worthy and not even that known to begin with?

7:30 PM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

And I wonder how you can consider my review "selling out" in any way.

Yes, Glen from Current Leaves pissed me off on a personal level, and yes I think his criticism was unfounded an immature. However, if I were to say bad things about a record that I actually liked because of personal issues, it would defeat the entire purpose of doing this in the first place, which was not to let personal matters (good or bad) get in the way of talking about local music. If I did that, I would be no better than some scenester writer that talks up his friends' bands and talks shit about bands that won't come to his parties or whatever.

If you don't like Current Leaves and disagree with my review, then thats fine, and I welcome that kind of criticism and discussion. However, unless you are accusing me of lying about my opinion, I don't quite quite understand your critcism here.

10:44 PM  
Anonymous ADub said...

Hey - there's my hate! I was beginning to worry.
So I bought an early REM album, sort of. I got Dead Letter Office and while it's mostly covers I can hear the comparisons and like the music. Stipe doesn't sound like the Stipe I've heard which is a good thing. And Peter Buck's guitar style and skill are surprisingly close to my own, which is very interesting. This basically supports my theory that listening to the same influences and taking your cues from the same mentors can let a band or artist arrive at a common conclusion.
Thanks for the HOT TIP

10:31 AM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

yeah, early REM is some of the most listenable and well crafted pop I've ever had the pleasure of hearing.

11:06 AM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:06 AM  
Anonymous SP said...

"Hey! wsjr Sells out! Glen must have sucked a couple dicks and a Scott Porter band too? Too much."

Sweet! I'm a genre now!

1:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't worry Scott, I think you suck more at Halo than anything else. Oooooooh Burn. Ouch. Stings doesn't it! Who am I?

2:35 PM  
Anonymous thecoolestretard said...

"Hey! wsjr Sells out! Glen must have sucked a couple dicks and a Scott Porter band too? Too much."

Obviously, this is Sam from the Observer who wrote this...

2:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm deeply offended by this. glen sucks dick whether it gets him somewhere or not.

3:11 PM  
Anonymous Adub said...

one time it got him into my house!

5:35 PM  
Anonymous shookie blah said...

one time it got him into my mouth.

3:22 AM  

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