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Music Reviews

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Castle Talk
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Fat Possum
Trespassers William

Rating: 7/10 ?

April 6, 2006
It's not so much the Having part that Anna-Lynne Williams has trouble with, rather it's the unspoken antecedent to the title of Trespassers William's second album - the missing "not," conspicuous by its absence - that's bothering her. What Having has is a series of thorough examinations of dead-end relationships conducted against a background of brackish, folk-tinged slow-core that waltzes like Low and exhales breathy electronica, ala Beth Orton or Dido. They're not autopsies. Whatever's going on between the two people in all 11 songs of Having is still alive, but it's sick and possibly incurable. Williams is trying to get at what it is that's making them unhealthy. You can glean the diagnosis from her penetrating lyrics, but the prognosis for all of them isn't so clear. One thing I do know is, it doesn't look good.

In "Ledge," Williams, the band's songwriter, compares love to " a window ledge" and there are negotiations we are not privy to that keep her from jumping to her death. "You talk me out of everything," she sings. Begrudgingly, she crawls back inside to safety, and resignation. "I'll give up quietly/It's nothing/It's nothing, yet it's all right," are the final words you hear from her. What's not expressed is that sense that nothing has been settled, that nothing will change, and that it's only a matter of time before she's back on that ledge. But the implication is clear.

One of many open-ended vignettes on Having, "Ledge" plays out much like every other song here, moving slowly and methodically with somber beats, a flurry of simulated strings and guitar that flickers in the dark like candlelight. Minus the synthetic violins and cello, "Safe, Sound" and "What Of Me" follow a similar, lazy path. There's a lovely, dark ambience to the record that reminds me of a creek hidden by droopy cottonwoods dangling their branches over the water. Instrumental anomalies, like the touches of banjo in "And We Lean In" or the soft tape manipulation of "Weakening," stir the water and flit around like dragonflies, but the flow is hardly disturbed because they are incorporated with measured delicacy and deep thought. That, together with the meticulous playing of Williams, Ross Simonini and Matt Brown, lead you to believe Trespassers William agonized over this recording, paying special attention to each note and how it fits into each finely spun arrangement. Adding luster to the recordings is Williams' voice, which shares a similar tonality with Low's Mimi Parker. Words just flow out of her mouth, and yet each one is distinct and clear.

If you close your eyes, you can imagine Having as a museum and you're a night watchman inspecting glowing displays of rare jewels. But, in the end, being a night watchman is a job and the work can become routine after awhile. The same goes for Having. There are some surprises, like the small, but turbulent storms of shoegazer noise that build and pass over "I Don't Mind" as if Mogwai was controlling the weather. And the awesome gathering strength of the chorus of "My Hands Up" sends Williams' vocals sweeping over plains of rushing keyboards like a huge bank of low, waterlogged clouds. It's a soaring dynamic that provides the most stunning moment of Having's comfortable existence.

Much of the time, though, Having flat lines. That same studied approach that makes Trespassers William so professional can also work against them, resulting in a slothful evolution that can breed monotony. For all of its beautiful layering of acoustic instruments and electronic sounds, Having has a bland architecture to it that occasionally elicits yawns. The template is the same throughout, and Trespassers William falls into the same trap of obstinate consistency that cages other slow-core acts. That single-minded approach is also born out in Williams' lyrics. There's a confrontational tone to every one of Having's pained lyrical dramas, as if in each song the characters are having "the talk" that crops up between two people who were once close but now seem miles apart. I love how Williams explores themes of loss and emotional distance and smartly avoids any sort of resolution. It may not be romantic, but it's real. How many people do you know who choose resignation and acquiescence over an actual course of action?

In "I Don't Mind," Williams, without any passion in her voice, delivers the line, "You know what words of love/get squeezed out/by a hand tightening 'round your neck." Having chokes you in the same misguided way, trying to win your love by the force of its will. Quiet and mesmerizing like the American Analog Set, but more amorphous and ethereal, Trespassers William takes you on an aural canoe trip up river with no paddles. The scenery is breathtaking, but the temptation to steer this boat in a direction of your choosing is overwhelming.

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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