Waltzing's for dreamers
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What the hell happened to "indie rock"? A decade ago, the phrase implied loud, brilliant and brainless all at once, hearts worn on the same tattered sleeves upon which young men wiped their snot noses. But somewhere between then and now, indie-rock sobered up, shut up, and took refuge in the bedroom. All at once, it seems, boys traded in their electrics for acoustics, their KISS records for VU boots and Leonard Cohen best-ofs, their sneers for frowns. No more getting drunk before a gig, especially if there's a quiet library nearby. In 1999, there's nothing more punk than a string section, a cornet, and guitars played so low and slow they're barely audible above a singer's desolate, mumbled plaints. The whole world has turned into Elliott Songsmiths, slow-dancing all alone. I can just hear my mother now: "Turn that crap up!"
Bill "Smog" Callahan, along with old buddy Jim O'Rourke (ex-Gastr Del Sol), has crafted yet another heartbreak gem in a very long line of sour-dour albums. It's amazing this guy can even make a record, given how freaking despondent he sounds; anyone who really feels this sad ("I am moving away from within the reach of me") and so all alone ("I am a teenage spaceship") couldn't get out of bed, much less pick up a guitar--and Callahan could hang himself from the string section. But there are miniature majestic moments to be had: the boom-boom rock and roll of "Held," the children cheerily singing the chorus of "No Dancing" as though Knock Knock were The Wall, the hand-clap catchiness of "Cold Blooded Old Times." It's funk music for very white people.
And so it is with the debut from The Sea and Cake's Sam Prekop, who has rounded up a gang of small stars (among them O'Rourke, Town and Country bassist Josh Abrams, and fellow Sea and Caker Archer Prewitt) to make a disc so diffident and intimate that sometimes it barely even makes a sound. The album doesn't wander too far off in strange territory: lots of moody instrumentals that prove indieboys with Tortoise connections still want to turn pop into "lite jazz," a handful of breezy bossa-nova toss-offs, vocals that sound as though they were recorded with head in hands. The best moments come early, on such songs as "The Company" and "Practice Twice," when Prekop sounds like Vince Guaraldi swapping the piano for guitar. For a few minutes, at least, the disc is neither pop nor "jazz," just absolutely lovely--wistful, charming, flawless. And Mom loves it.