Norfolk And Western
Whether or not you know the name, you have most likely heard the work of one Adam Seltzer in one way or another. As the owner of the rather legendary Type Foundry studio in the upper Northwest (where an absolute crapload of bands have recorded), he's had at least a part in a bunch of great albums. As part of Norfolk And Western, he creates lush indie folk/rock music that sounds something like Yo La Tengo mixed with Calexico. With the help of some big names (including Joey Burns from the latter and M Ward), this fourth full-length album from the group hits a stride that pushes it into beautiful, assured territory.
The main Yo La Tengo reference point above can be attributed to the fact that the vocals of Seltzer sound similar to the breathy ones by Ira Kaplan. They're sort of half sung and half spoken with an almost lazy intonation most of the time, but it works well with the music that seems written for the wide-open spaces. Perhaps no track demonstrates this better than the opener of "A Marriage Proposal," a soft acoustic track highlighted with punctuations of electric guitar. It's a bit on the bleak side, but brightens ever so slightly with a horn and two-part vocal harmonies in the last 30 seconds which in turn leads nicely into "Letters Opened In The Bar."
Like the first track, much of the second is built around a sparse, yet rich bed of instrumentation that includes orchestra bells, strums of electric guitar, and pedal steel. The whole thing has a sort of woozy feel that provides a perfect backdrop to the wistful vocals. One of the things that Seltzer seems to be good at doing seemingly is more with less. While his instrumentation is by no means simple, he has an economy with his music that is quite lovely. "Terrified" builds with a banjo and subtle percussion and quiet organ under more dual vocals (from Seltzer and Decemberists drummer Rachel Blumberg) before building to louder choruses with touches of bells and electric guitar.
Another thing is that there isn't a single song on the album that runs over 5 minutes long. In fact, most of the tracks clock in at a lean 3 and a half minutes. Because of this, there's always something going on and the release keeps moving along nicely. Even when the disc strips down to only Seltzer and acoustic guitar (as on the beginning of "Jealousy, It's True"), it's engaging. On tracks like "Oslo" (with a bit of eerie optigan sounds), it's easy to draw a line and connect it to something like Sparklehorse (whom the group has also played shows with), but it's done in a way that it fits into the flow of the release while adding a new wrinkle in the sound. If you're into any of the above artists or just like excellent country and folk-tinged indie rock music, by all means hunt this down.