[3 April 2009]
Some Sweet Relief boasts no shortage of long-lingering guitar lines. Speck Mountain manage to steer clear of aimless psychedelia by a long shot, however, reveling in their Chicago-based, mellow soul (they call it “ambient soul”) instead. Lead vocalist Marie-Claire Balabanian halts the temptation to “just, like, jam” when she assumes the role of a reflective, confident narrator, but she’s unfortunately the only one driving toward the story’s arc on the band’s second album.
“There was a time, before before this troubled time, ‘didn’t need no man to ease this worried mind,” sings Balabanian on the Some Sweet Relief‘s slow-simmering title track. Its chord progression will ring familiar with anyone who’s spent time with an Otis Redding LP, while the languid leads and nearly-out-of-earshot hiss of the organ speakers reference a subdued but potent ditty called “Midnight Sun”, which sits in the fourth slot of Speck Mountain’s Summer Above. Although Balabanian sounded a tad sunnier on the 2007 debut (and perhaps less sure), Summer Above‘s comely murkiness was just large enough of a dose before its codeine-fueled turbines spun themselves out. Now that Balabanian, mirroring Liz Durrett on her Mezzanine album, has taken more of an aggressive (though still reverb-doused) approach, you get to wondering when exactly the instrumental accompaniment is going to follow suit. Check Some opener “Shame on the Soul” or the syrupy analog glaze that coats joint acts “Backslider” and “Backsliding”. Strong tracks all of them, but those patiently awaiting a big payoff, at least to materialize in some capacity, will be left feeling largely discouraged. At least they’ll have a soundtrack for it.