I almost fell asleep twice this afternoon.
The first time was while I was relaxing in front of the fireplace.
The second time was when I was lying on my bed, listening to the new Vermont CD.
At this time of year, falling asleep isn’t a bad thing. I rarely take naps, but this is the Christmas season and I’ve got few options outside of spending some new gift certificates and waiting in holiday traffic. So there’s lots of time to kill. I’ve been doing this with plenty of sleep and plenty of new music, which often mesh beautifully, as was the case today.
Vermont’s new album, unlike the latest from the Promise Ring (a band featuring two members of Vermont), is about as relaxing as music can be. It is—save for some rare keyboards—completely acoustic. Davey Von Bohlen of the Promise Ring and Chris Rosenau of Pele provide exquisite layers of acoustic guitarwork, and Dan Didier of the Ring chips in with some light percussion. Von Bohlen talks—not sings—lyrics reminiscent of the first two Promise Ring albums, and everything together works a lot like taking Robitussin an hour before bed—it makes you feel a lot better, and you end up sleeping much easier as well.
It’s not that Living Together is boring; the song structure here compared to the Promise Ring’s new Very Emergency is about a million times more complex. But the energy that made V.E. a wake-up call is completely gone, replaced with the sentimentality and yearning for lovers lost that allowed early Promise Ring to be pigeonholed into the emo category to which it didn’t belong. Living Together could suffer the same fate as that early work—it’s reminiscent of a smarter Jazz June prepping for MTV’s Unplugged—but it’s hardly an emo record. In fact, Von Bohlen rarely shows any emotion. He tells stories and remembers better times past, but his nostalgia never grows sappy. Lines like “I’m just a day on the calendar” and “I don’t want to be wanted around” suggest a miserable artist, but Von Bohlen’s just telling it like it is. He doesn’t sound the least bit sad on these lines or any others on the album, and just the same he never sounds happy anywhere else.
The music parallels the lyrics, often beautiful and grandiose but never showing a hint of feeling. It’s not that the members of Vermont are bored on Living Together, they’ve just crafted a lush guitar record that lacks emotion. The songcraft and playing is often brilliant, and its excellence combined with lack of meaning allows Living Together to mesmerize and sedate, working like a lullaby or the fireplace which had me falling asleep earlier. Like that fireplace, Living Together feels great as it hits you but all the while soothes you into nodding off without you realizing what’s going on.
If you want your music to stimulate in the same manner as coffee, Living Together is hardly a wise purchase. But if you enjoy albums that relax, and can appreciate the musical equivalent of a barbiturate, Living Together is worth picking up. Regardless, this review is finished, and I’m going to bed, and Vermont will be on my stereo as I fall asleep.