The Channel's Twilight
My world is so filled with music scattered to the extremities. A perimeter dotted by inhumans belching demon smoke and oddball techno divas, and loners banging their heads on their guitars into a jambox in the rented room they are about to be evicted from, and often I find myself standing alone in the middle of this circle wondering what used to go here. I know it wasn't top 40 radio stuff, that forms the atmosphere we all breathe in and choke on occasionally and generally ignore. I know it wasn't either pop country or contemporary Christian music (generally the same things with varying degrees of disingenuous schmaltz and increasing slickness) because that stuff makes me recoil like vampire to a sunlamp when forced thereupon me. Thankfully, what can be dubbed plain-old great music occasionally makes it past the stunt genres usually occupying my attention and land in my lap.
This time it is Solarists, a ridiculously palatable and friendly side project helmed by Hinterland's Cameron McLellan and their album The Channel's Twilight. I've been listening to this off and on all day trying to remember who McClellan sounds like and it just struck me: Josh Ritter. The same unadorned voice, the bittersweet clever lyrics and a song structures rotted in acoustic guitars but with just enough accoutrement to keep them from being "folky." The wistfulness cascades in with "Fourth of July" (so many people have done a song called this, Dave Alvin, X, etc and they've all been excellent) with McLellan s voice almost cracking against the bare bones guitar and harmonica, creating a perfect open mike nite moment. The rest of the band comes in with "The Exit Waters" and stays throughout the rest of the album, with sweet harmonies and beautiful flourishes throughout the records. I forget how much I really like stuff like this, that I could be happy if all the extraneous extreme music was taken away from me and I was left to ride out the rest of time with clever indie folk pop. buts not even as consciously indie or pop as say The Shins or Belle and Sebastian, its something a little cleaner, a little more pure. Not sure what to label it, which is probably a good sign.
"Lies and Whispers" is a great swaying number, singing about ships and stars and "Beauty and Suspension" is a perfect conversational jangly number with its brushed drums and soft rock interplay. My favorite song, if I was to have one, is "The Leaves" which builds up and breaks down like watching sand dunes be created and destroyed in time lapse, demonstrating that you can have monumental build up without being bombastic about it. All the songs on this record are delicious. Maybe they all do sound kinda the same, but I don't think McLellan is trying to make a Badly Drawn Boy social-studies-fair-of-a-record here. Its like complaining that breeze in Spring is always so goddamn pleasant.
"Starfucker" takes the tempo down a notch, but not in any Will Oldham way, and "Bad Bad Heart" sounds kinda classic but not in a corny Chris Isaak way. This stuff is just good, solid, sweet, perfect in a way. Its like when you have an acquaintance, not like a close friend but someone you know, gets a moment of inspiration and grabs a nearby guitar and strums and sings the most perfect song you ever heard. Its shocking and revealing and beautiful, and that's how this album hits me. I was going to say this album will totally cleanse your palette, but that's dismissive. What it will do is totally charm you for a moment, and then let you go. And your eyes and feet will wander out to the edges again, but you'll be back, remembering what you really truly love. Its great stuff.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com