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 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

MUSIC

 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
Soltero
Hell Train
Three Ring Records

Rating: 8/10 ?


December 2, 2005
"Bleeding hearts, pull together" is a plea from Soltero's Tim Howard to the wounded souls around him - not liberals organizing a White House coup attempt. Misery loves company, after all, and Howard is organizing a group therapy session of sorts with the song "Bleeding Hearts," off Hell Train, the fourth album recorded by Howard under the Soltero moniker.

The healing starts when they pour their energies into building rope swings and bonfires and watching the sunset. For a moment they'll forget how messed up they are, and then they'll go on a bender that will somehow seem heroic. "We will drink ourselves out of this hole," he sings, "and never talk about how we've given up on it all/and never talk about how far we've got left to fall." Rock bottom is probably closer than they think, but not for Soltero. If Hell Train is any indication, Howard and his revolving cast of space cowboys are going to be just fine.

There's a wonderful psychedelic haze that hangs over Hell Train's summery, dandelion-fuzzed pop and stoned, bittersweet country balladry. Howard's clever, metaphorical lyrics are eloquent, poignant, painfully funny and full of hard truth. Alcohol and ruined relationships are the main topics of conversation at this AA meeting under the Joshua tree, and Howard deals with them with a kind of gallows humor that would make an executioner smile. Almost buried among the lovely, crumbling piano ruins of "Arcadian Coast" are the words, "She was drunk and I was high/and so was she and so was I." With that, the pair set sail in a wicked storm, and when the weather turns nasty, he comes to understand that "She wasn't scared that she would die/but she was scared that we might die together." Ouch. That's got to hurt.

If sentiments like that have got you down, the buoyant pop of "The Prize" and the dizzy sway of the infectious "Song Of The Season" will pick you right up. Reminiscent of Pavement's "Carrot Rope," "The Prize" has a feel good melody and sunny electric guitars that gently jab your ribs like a good-natured buddy directing your attention to the attractive girl that just walked by. After you've stared too long, you shift your gaze to the airy pop sheen of "From the Station" and "Michael," two tracks that sound like outtakes from The Shins' Oh, Inverted World. Like a weaver sitting at his loom, Howard works the delicate strings of his acoustic guitar with a smooth finger picking technique on "Michael" as eerie organ and quiet background singers inhale and exhale in unison; Hell Train's pop-oriented tracks have a pale sparkle to them, like dew-covered spider webs awash in the glow of the morning sun.

When Howard goes country, Hell Train has the feel of a ghost town haunted by Procol Harum and hippies, especially in the trippy, starlit "Step Through This Door." The keyboards of Hell Train are otherworldly, recalling the magic and wonderment of Grandaddy's Sophtware Slump, yet the heart and soul of his songwriting comes from Howard's country roots - however far they stray from tradition. The twang you hear in songs like "Single Good Evening" and "Bleeding Hearts" is so slight and subtle, you'll almost miss it - but rest assured, it's there. If you had to name the one artist Howard emulates the most on Hell Train, it's Gram Parsons. The warped slide guitar of "Bleeding Hearts" and the distant coyote howl of "Michael" are perfect for a moonlit desert horse ride with the godfather of alt-country.

Mellow and meaningful, Hell Train is delightfully quirky and light-hearted, despite the hard times of its hard-luck characters. Even though Hell Train can be a bit of a sleepy ride - the dead folk bookends of "Rosie Day" and "If I Had A Chance" could cure insomnia - and the instrumentation could be richer, more like Lambchop, this warm, well-crafted work has a charm all its own. The mood is marijuana and beer on the back porch and everybody who comes to the party is there to forget something. It's not avoidance; it's just a respite, and who doesn't need one of those?

Reviewed by Peter Lindblad
Peter Lindblad lives in Appleton, Wis., and bleeds green and gold just like all the Packer fan nutjobs in the area. He does draw the line at wearing blocks of chedder on his head, or any other body parts for that matter, though. His professional career has taken weird twists and turns that have led him to his current position as an editor at a coin magazine. He hopes his stay there will be a short one. Before that, he worked as an associate editor at a log home magazine. To anyone that will listen, he\'ll swear that Shiner was one of the greatest rock bands to ever walk the earth. Yet he also has much love for Superchunk, Spoon, DJ Shadow, Swervedriver, Wilco, Fugazi, Jawbox, ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Modest Mouse, among others.

See other reviews by Peter Lindblad

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