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LITERATURE

 » 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
Marjorie Fair
Self Help Serenade
Capitol Records

Rating: 7.5/10 ?


July 29, 2005
In the wake of Ryan Adams' instant, harrowing classic, Heartbreaker, most other alt-country albums - even the loneliest ones - seem lovely. Evan Slamka, the man behind Marjorie Fair, meshes Adams' crushing sensibilities with Eric Matthews' style chamber pop. His work is beautiful and stinging, but unlike Heartbreaker, recovery is nearly always in sight.

But, while there are moments when he channels brilliance, largely with the help of his impressive backing musicians (which include Jon Brion and Joey Waronker), Slamka's creations often border on the self-indulgent, unable to find the perfect balance between affecting and effective. This critique, however, is solely based at an intellectual level - because to the ears, Self Help Serenade can hardly be denied. It is beautifully sad with moments hand-picked for their poignancy; it captures those times when we are overwhelmed by bleakness, where sorrow seems too large to overcome. His harmonies, inspired heavily by the Beach Boys, howl with that grand, desperate loneliness that cannot be escaped. As such, this is a slow, cold album where, in other contexts, its rich melodies would be gloriously warm.

In his muddled moments, Slamka creates tracks meant to be listened to only in the depths of misery. Cuts like "How Can You Laugh" are perhaps too despairing to be relatable unless one's heart is truly broken, and "Halfway House," with its brutal crime scene imagery, places a barrier of distance and denial that is hard to penetrate. However, on the whole, a glimmer of optimism breaks through each track - be it in pacing ("Empty Room"), routine comfort ("Stare") or symphonic gestures ("Silver Gun").

His best tracks are truly phenomenal, worthy of the talent he's enlisted and speaking well of his own abilities. "Waves" is a near-perfect expression, a flawless emulation of its title with overwhelming roars and sweet symmetry. "Cracks in the Wall" is also a too-true depiction, this time of clinical depression and a deadened heart losing its soul; as its sound recalls a Jason Falkner ballad awash in distortion, catharsis and tears, it adds to the credibility of Marjorie Fair and takes their status to another level. In the end, Self Help Serenade is superb because it is unflinchingly true, whether the harmonies escape from the mouths of ghosts or angels.

Reviewed by Sarah Peters
A former music editor and staff writer for LAS, Sarah Peters recently disappeared. Perhaps one day she will surface again, who knows.

See other reviews by Sarah Peters

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