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(Grand Theft Autumn)

"I'm gonna sit here til you notice me again, til your words roll off my back," sings Mike Feuerstack in a pretty, solitary voice, prefacing the 37 minutes of lonely boy confessions and pleadings that make up Snailhouse's Fine, a fabulous CD of gentle delving into human relationships.

Snailhouse is Mike Feuerstack of the Wooden Stars, playing pretty acoustic guitar and singing letters to former friends and could-be lovers in a voice that sounds like he’s alone in the corner singing quietly to himself. On the 14 songs on Fine he sounds both calm and restless; nearly every song is from the perspective of someone lonely but not depressed, just in that state of mind that asks “where’s everyone gone to, and why?” Fine comes across as a constant articulation of a person’s inner thoughts and feelings, but Feuerstack doesn’t sound self-obsessed; these are feelings anyone can relate to, voiced through pretty, unassuming pop songs.

The songs here are all about people and how they treat each other or, more specifically, how Feuerstack responds to the way other people treat him, and how he observes other people acting toward each other. Throughout there’s an attitude of wanting to just be left alone in peace. On “Song for Chester Brown” he sings, “No one ever gets tired of talking, and whispers always escalate into chatter,” in a way that yearns for simple quiet. Still, throughout the songs there’s also the desire for human connection, articulated in smart, sometimes witty ways, like in ” Preface”: “I take myself so seriously, and sometimes I wish you could do the same.”

From the tunefully upbeat “Keep Frozen” to the quiet agitation of “Wide Eyed,” Fine has great variation on theme and sound within a thematically and musically unified environment. It feels like a musical scrapbook or journal, and the homemade look of the album art and packaging, with a drawing printed on the front of a cardboard case and handwritten song titles and liner notes, augments this feeling. Fine was originally released in 1995 on the Canadian label Lunamoth and has now been reissued on Grand Theft Autumn. It’s one of those releases that makes me thankful for music-oriented record labels, not only those that quietly put out great music like this in the first place, but those who have the wherewithal to dig up beautiful music from the past and deliver it to grateful ears longing to hear as many sounds and voices as possible.

Dave Heaton has been writing about music on a regular basis since 1993, first for unofficial college-town newspapers and DIY fanzines and now mostly on the Internet. In 2000, the same year he started writing for PopMatters, he founded the online arts magazine, still around but often in flux. He writes music reviews for the print magazine The Big Takeover. He is a music obsessive through and through. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri.

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