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Rock like a man

Love or the Decimal Equivalent
Legendary Crystal Chandelier
steve

It's tempting to call Peter Schmidt a survivor, if only because he's been around long enough to have been forgotten by those who never knew any better to begin with. He escaped Three on a Hill, split Funland, and didn't give up even after the promises whispered in his ear all those years turned out to be lies. But we don't reward the last man standing just because he didn't fall down; there are no prizes in rock and roll for endurance. And Schmidt knows this, which is why his first solo album moves forward without retracing too many of its creator's old, familiar steps. Schmidt could not have made Love or the Decimal Equivalent four years ago or a decade ago; it's the result of so much trial and error, of growth and disappointment, of failure and renewal.

The album sounds at once familiar and marvelously brand-new, and with its synth fills and keyboard thrills, it's certainly much bigger (because it's smaller, so there) than anything Schmidt has ever tried before. Like fellow ex-Funlander Will Johnson, who emerged from behind the drum kit as centro-matic and came armed with indie-rock symphonies, Schmidt is reborn once free of the guitar-bass-drums-vocal format in which he has worked for a lifetime. Love or... sounds like a record made by a man who needed, not just wanted, to make it; even the slow songs feel urgent, desperate.

The album begins almost as though it's in the middle of a song. Schmidt's voice, deep and deadpan, is the first thing you hear: "Sure as hell I'm stuck," he opens, wondering if you'll give him a hand; "I need a volunteer," he moans. The music (with Schmidt on vocals and guitar, producer Matt Pence on drums) rolls along for a while, in no rush to reach its end, gathering steam and friends along the way. Soon enough, Captain Audio's Brandon Curtis is on the Gibson EB2, James Henderson is along for the ride on keyboards, and Brave Combo's Jeffrey Barnes is providing the punch line on flute and penny whistle. Then comes "Favorite Shirt," which sounds as big as the cosmos and as tiny as a bedroom; the music (effects, really) behind Schmidt almost turns into echoes as he utters, over and over, the word lonely until it loses all meaning.

What makes Love or... so remarkable is its range; it doesn't need radio, because it's the left and right and in-between of the dial. Where Funland was power-pop hiding behind punk's spunk, Schmidt lets it all hang out, writing Latin-tinged pop songs that wouldn't sound so out of place on a Joe Jackson record ("The Very Ever After") and then following up with an unkempt, arm's-length rocker that finds Schmidt twisting with himself ("I Can Dance"). And Love or... is full of whispered lyrics and tiny climaxes, perhaps the result of Schmidt having played some with Bedhead; "Well I Know" builds up and breaks in half, and "Waiting to Connect" closes the album on the most uplifting down-note in recent rock. The best, ahem, "debut" of the year.

--Robert Wilonsky

 
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