Chicago’s Third Wheel was founded by two life-long friends, Jeremy Babcock and Shawn Schlag, who’ve been performing under that moniker for over a decade. Their sound is uptempo heartland folk-rock filled with close harmonies: think Wilco’s A.M. covered by Simon and Garfunkel as produced by the Innocence Mission’s Don Peris. On Account of the Atmosphere, their second record, is a wonderful showcase for Babcock’s charming, genial songs. The emphasis is on jangling guitar and warm vocal interplay on songs like “Compass” and the rollicking “All Your Prayers Are Alive!”, the latter benefiting from the added texture of trumpet, courtesy of Jason McInnes. By and large, Atmosphere is an album of uplift, rare in an age of creeping cynicism. Even on the standout “Weathermap”, which provides a litany of life-threatening scenarios (including the playful couplet “Goldfish floating on a stormy sea / Alligator choking violently on me”), salvation reveals itself in the form of a lover who is “the only weathermap” the protagonist needs. With stylophones pinging and the rhythm section bouncing along, there’s a positive outlook that lasts throughout the rest of the album, even in its most somber and crestfallen moments.
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