If you've seen American Beauty, you probably remember the part in the movie where the fellow (played by Wes Bentley) says, "sometimes I feel like there's so much beauty in the world that my heart can't take it." You can look at it like he's either being overdramatic or get sucked in by it, probably both if you've seen it more than once. Anyway, that's not really my point anyway. My point is that if you edit that sentence and replace the word 'beauty' with 'music,' that's about how I feel a lot of the time.
You can call me silly and overdramatic and I probably am sometimes, but it's really the truth. It seems like every week I discover at least a couple new groups that I want to hear more of, and I know that there are probably hundreds or even thousands more that I'll never get the chance to hear. I think that's too damn bad, but it makes me feel just a little better when I somehow stumble across a band I probably would have never heard of. In this case, the album is The Autopilot Knows You Best by The Places, and although it's not really groundbreaking in any way (but it's pretty damn hard to be at this point in the game), it's a really fine indie rock album full of excellent instrumentation, pretty vocals, and great lyrics as well.
While I'm not quite sure of who actually makes up the band, it seems that the only constant in the 11 songs on the release is singer/multi instrumentalist Amy Annelle. The rest of the revolving cast (although some people make quite a few more appearances than others) varies song to song, but the album has a cohesive feel anyway. One of the stylistic things on the album that works sometimes (and feels slightly out-of-place in others) is the use of samples from an old public service announcement from the 50s. The album starts out with "Own Your Own Home" and feels sort of like work by fellow upper-northwesterners 764-Hero with its jangly guitar and loose drumming. Of course, this track also has shortwave radio and some other strange effects (like filtered vocals) that add another layer to things.
For the most part, the album seems to work best when the tracks are stripped down just a bit more and the vocals of Annelle are able to stand out more. "Lazy Days And Castaways" sounds just like it should given its title and although it picks up a fair amount midway through, the viola and accordian accent the vocals nicely. Recorded in mono, "Will Try" takes on a live feel that flattens things out just slightly without taking any feeling out of the track. The two original tracks (the actual final track is a cover of Syd Barrett's "Late Night") are absolutely amazing in their quiet beauty. "Ode To The Exhausted" is only some very slight drums, guitar and a bit of Rhodes organ along with the vocals of Annelle, but it works like a lullaby (as it should).
"Love Song For A Comet" winds things out, and it's a slowly-building track that gradually builds into sort of a controlled, extended flourish. Actually, the vocals of Annelle sort of sound like those of another female singer with sort of the same name. If you took Aimee Mann and put her in more of an interesting musical setting, it might sound somewhat like The Places. It's an excellent album from a fairly lesser-known group, but hopefully they don't stay that way.