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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
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Hilken Mancini and Chris Colbourn
Hilken Mancini and Chris Colbourn

Rating: 7/10 ?

February 24, 2006
The piano is sad and it kind of stumbles in parts, and the gently plucked acoustic guitar has a hopeful, madrigal quality to it. Into the comforting arms of this minimal accompaniment, Chris Colbourn falls, singing, "I'll paint our sad career" in the forlorn finale to the self-titled album he recorded with Hilken Mancini in late 2005. If the irony doesn't hit you like an avalanche, you don't know your Boston indie scene history.

In the '90s, Mancini fronted the Beantown jangle-pop outfit Fuzzy with Chris Toppin, scoring a minor hit with "Flashlight," a shooting star of a song that turned the heads of many a major label executive. A few years later, Tag/Atlantic, in the midst of a corporate restructuring boondoggle, dropped Fuzzy and the band never recaptured the magic. Meanwhile, across town, Buffalo Tom, with Colbourn on bass and vocals, was making no-frills, heartfelt, meat-and-potatoes rock - mixed with a few folk-inflected ballads and Americana accents - for the "man" and going nowhere fast. Big Red Letter Day, the glossy rouged whore of Buffalo Tom's catalog, tried like hell to be the next Born To Run, but label heads found the limp sales discouraging. Two more proper albums followed, along with a greatest hits collection and a b-sides offering, but Buffalo Tom, still together and reportedly planning another studio release, had lost its momentum and a lot of its following.

Titled "Our Sad Career," that last song could be an epithet for Mancini and Colbourn, but to their credit, they're not ready to call it a day. Out of the blue, the two resurfaced in late 2005, collaborating as a duo on an album of tight, winsome indie-pop full of sharp, wonderfully constructed hooks and blue-sky melodies that remind you of Belly and Julianna Hatfield, or even The Spinanes. The downside is, their inventory of songs is a little thin, as was the case in their salad days. For every crunchy, satisfying rocker like "I Will Die" or swooning, sophisticated pop swan like "Hannah," there's the faceless strum and alkaline, off-putting choruses of "Party Town" and "In My Arms," and the somewhat flaccid melodrama of "Moonbeams," a slight disappointment despite all the marbled beauty of its piano. It's not that they're bad songs. It's just that you get the sense they didn't turn out like Mancini and Colbourn planned, that somewhere in the recording process they lost their personality and soul.

Undoubtedly, the highlight is the glorious "Wedding Cake," a golden piece of frosted pop perfection that shows Mancini still knows how to craft a hook. Colbourn takes his turn with the slight country twang and Teenage Fanclub-inspired melody of "Situations Count!," which makes you believe that he still has a future beyond settling down and playing county fairs with Bill Janovitz.

For the most part, Mancini and Colbourn play to their strengths here. When Mancini takes lead vocals, the songs sound a lot like Fuzzy, only a little warmer and more grown up. You get the sweet taste of "Wedding Cake" and icing at the corner of your mouth, and then the prickly rosebush called "Life Is A Trick" cuts you till you bleed. Colbourn, on the other hand, offers big, sweeping acoustic guitars with more benign, but no less engaging hooks, like those of "Saint Agnes Eve." And when he grabs the mike, it's a blue-blooded Buffalo Tom, faded sweatshirts and Harvard Square in fall you hear. To longtime fans of both, this will come as welcome news. Staying the course is always the safest bet. That's the smart career move.

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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