By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Funny to say "secret weapon" about a singer who's a signature part of the band, but Simpson's vocals are often de-emphasized, sneaking in memorable phrases at opportune times, like a talented actor cutting into a long, delicate scene and taking it to another level. The soft-spoken, thoughtful Simpson comes across as more of a listener than a talker, so the role suits him perfectly. His first-person narratives might seem overly simplistic delivered at anything but his deliciously languorous pace, which emphasizes his knack for turning a nonsensical phrase into something much more.
"City swallows trees/And I am responsible/'Cause I am indifferent to these things," he posits with conviction on "Cinema Air," the album's most immediate song. "I Was Born in Omaha" is Simpson's other primary platform on Start Here. The acoustic confessional, another example of Simpson's delivery elevating the lyrics, takes a deep plunge three minutes in, diving into a pool of endless soloing and a dramatic vocal epilogue, lasting nearly till the seven-minute mark.
Houtman's diverse arsenal accounts for a large part of the album's smorgasbord of sound, but on the thumping "Good Morning, Providence," Malone's drums get a mad cut-and-paste treatment and clash with Simpson's vocals at every turn, defying conventional wisdom. "There were drums everywhere," Simpson says about the song's construction. "There were real drum tracks that had been recorded live, there were all these cut-up drum tracks that we did on the verses and choruses. Probably 20 or 30 tracks that didn't even end up getting used."
Despite being stacked to the rafters with subtle and unusual shading, the Gloria Record successfully kept Start Here very much within certain parameters. There are no purposefully oblique passages on Start Here, something they were certainly aware of, being a band that draws inspiration from Radiohead's excursions into experimental pop, but probably not their explorations into the beyond.
Start Here is one for the fans, the sound of A Lull in Traffic allowed to breathe, grow and fully germinate into something singularly unique to the Gloria Record. Backward-looking Mineral fans need not apply.
"It's not very exciting to keep making music unless you do it differently or progress somehow," Simpson says, "or even just challenge yourself to keep it interesting."