If ever a record were true to its title, Homesongs is it. The 10 entries on this remarkable debut from ex-Fridge member Adem Ilhan were not only recorded at home, they exude the warmth and comfort of a lair well loved and, in this record's darker moments, one much-needed.
Homesongs is an unflinching illumination of the place we retreat to when life puts the boot in: "Home is where your heart comes from/But what do you do when you're heart's gone/With everything you need?/It's at that point you've got to choose/To stay, or go, you're bound to lose," Ilhan sings.
Equally striking, though, is the record's sound -- in place of the vanguard cut-and-paste collages Ilhan produced with the Fridge (and which ex-band mate Kiernan Hebden continues with as Four Tet), these more traditional songs enhance the home-spun feel. Oddball accents like glockenspiel, harmonium, autoharp and flute provide all the flair needed for songs otherwise built only around acoustic guitars and Ilhan's evocative baritone (which recalls, at different junctures, Nick Drake, Jeff Buckley, Sufjan Stevens and Richard Hawley). Add phenomenal production, and the listener is embraced in a rich quilt of sound comfortable enough to feel like home.
That sense of security is a balm against Ilhan's troubled but resilient narrators. "Hold her like you've never done/Let this be a moment/That you won't forget/All your life/'Til you die," Ilhan warns a lover in the regal opener, "Statued." In "Gone Away," a failed relationship turns an ex-lover bitter: "Wherever you've gone it's the same to me/The ocean or London or wherever you call home/And all dressed up in your finery/You'll take what you can again." But most songs end on a redemptive note, best summed up by "Pillow," where, with just an autoharp for accompaniment, Ilhan sings "Rest my head upon my pillow/Close my eyes I'll slumber easy here.../Could it be I've found my home?"
Whatever you want to call it -- Neo-folk? Alt-folk? Folktronica? -- Homesongs is the new benchmark for it, its simple beauty and honesty obliterating any previous notions about what this music could sound like.
Track to Burn: "Statued"
Grade: A --John Schacht
Rare is the group founded on sweeping vocal harmonies as sweet and affecting as those of Tres Chicas. True to their name, the Triad trio boasts the bittersweet siren songs of Caitlin Cary (ex-Whiskeytown), Lynn Blakey (Glory Fountain, Oh-OK) and Tonya Lamm (Hazeldine). Together these ladies fashion a debut of sublime strength, drawing on the roots-driven sounds of their other bands in forging pretty, heartbreaking songs and delivering a number of masterful covers. Full of cry-in-your-beer heartache, the Chicas' songs float on a sea of regret but their vision is crisp enough to avoid cliche. Cary's "Desire," in particular, works a wonderful conceit, as astride a mournful violin line and abreast the backing vocals, she sings, "Wishing gave me her number/And Waiting won't answer the phone/...Trying's been out of the country/And I can't reach Hoping at all." While there's nary a misstep across the album's 10 songs, several stand out, among them the folkish-country of "When Was the Last Time," which features some of the album's warmest three-part harmonies, Blakey's haunting "Heartbeat," whose melodic pulse is as steady as the night is dark, and their fantastic cover of Loretta Lynn's country rave-up, "Deep As Your Pocket."
Track to Burn: "Heartbeat"
Grade: A- --Chris Parker
Get past the HiveHype, all the matching outfits and the "we're your new favorite band" shtick, and what remains of Howlin' Pelle Almqvist and Co. is the skeleton of a band, all naked energy and raw-boned enthusiasm.
Tyrannosaurus Hives, the band's newest, is another 12-pack of bracing saw-tooth guitar, bouncing new-wave blips and giggles, and more self-positive riffing than any one band ought to be allowed. Something's changed, however. Always fond of the colors black and white in their personal lives (and in their album art and graphic design), the group now seems to have taken the same aesthetic to their work. Tyrannosaurus Hives leaves no gray areas, except perhaps for the INXS-on-acid symphonic whirl that is "Diabolic Scheme." Songs like "Abra Cadaver" and "Love in Plaster," (which, it should be said, has nothing to do with Miss Cynthia and Mr. Hendrix) all come in at about two-and-a-half minutes, barely enough time to be considered actual songs but more than enough time for the damn things to lodge themselves in your head like a flipped fork.
In other words, The Hives have stopped trying to become Your New Favorite Band. Howlin' Pelle and his gang would like you to know that they want to be your favorite band, period.
Track to Burn: "Two-timing Touch and Broken Bones"
Grade: A---Timothy C. Davis