Andrea Maxand’s vocals aren’t the stuff legends are made of, but fortunately she can pen several stellar songs with a voice that is capable of doing a very solid job. Her Angel Hat album was more of a folk affair, but this album here moves straight into a rock-meets-college-rock niche. With vocals that sound as if they’re buried under the mix and are very hard to discern on initial listens, this opening track entitled “Cassie’s Song” is driven by straightforward guitar riffs and an intense rock pop leaning. And it works tremendously well! Moving down-tempo into a melancholic bridge that primarily features Death Cab for Cutie’s bassist Nick Harmer, Maxand then enters into a format that 10,000 Maniacs with Natalie Merchant would get into. What is most apparent is she’s given the coffeehouse folk style a rest on this album, instead moving head-on into challenging and rewarding territory. “Half a Joke” sounds like something Avril Lavigne might be doing 3 or 4 albums from now—a polished and mature pop rock tune that grooves with its bass line and uses every ounce of it to transmit its message. Guitarists, which include Charles Keller along with Maxand, create a lovely amount of give-and-take, both weaving in and out of the other’s pattern and chord structure.
Fans of the Black Watch or early Cure would seek comfort in the early two songs, but it’s on the mope-filled and sullen “Winners” where Maxand seems to separate herself from the rest of her indie contemporaries. A cross between the lightness of Tori Amos but without the theatrical timbre, Maxand rolls with this song’s indifferent tempo as layers of ambience are added on top. It’s almost as if two melodies are working in one, rolling at times with the faster tempo of one while slowing down at the same time to meet the piano and bass. Odd, but quite charming. Maxand sings about “rising above” as it rolls along before she hits her stride. And what a stride, high-pitched vocals that are neither grating nor airy. The conclusion is allowed to blossom also, giving the tune only more of its fine intangible or, for lack of a better term, “oomph”. The only time she gets the plot wrong is on the rock-by-numbers grrl rock of “Everyone Can See You”, which sounds a bit like Juliana Hatfield or a radio-friendly Sleater-Kinney.
The best of the bunch, a nine-song bunch at that, is the centerpiece. “Here Comes the Revolution” is a slow and very moving piece of music that doesn’t come off as syrupy as Lisa Loeb or Aimee Mann but delivers more than that. Much more! Backed by a sparse accompaniment, Maxand’s hushed and distant vocals create a depressing but dreamy and hopeful aura, somewhat like Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” in places with its rudimentary piano work. The simplicity of the song is its biggest selling point as it moves over the five-minute mark. Makes one get the impression it could go on for 10 or 15 minutes without losing any momentum or feeling. “Song in Two Parts” contains the title in its lyrics but is far too melodramatic for its own good. The Amos-ish piano and hues don’t quite get up to snuff, resulting in a light Lilith Fair affair. That is until halfway through when they realize a second livelier part is needed, and Maxand delivers it.
The last two songs resort to the intricate college rock blueprint that rarely falters if done quite well. A dreamy and infectious beat drives “The Shape of Hands” with the singer soaring over the top of the mix before it gears down leading up to the larger chorus. Fantastic stuff. The mid-tempo and deliberate nature propelling “Bedroom Window” is proof that Maxand has reached the next level musically. It’s a short but incredibly sweet album that shows Maxand putting the music and words where they deserve to go.
// Notes from the Road
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