Glass Rock: Tall Firs Meet Soft Location

[6 June 2010]

By Chris Conaton

Glass Rock is a band named after a song on their debut album, which is named after the two bands that combined to form Glass Rock. The story goes that Brooklyn’s Tall Firs, during a radio station appearance, heard a song by the defunct Detroit-based band Soft Location and liked it so much that they got in touch and decided to collaborate. So Tall Firs Meet Soft Location is literally what is happening on this album. Together, the band makes slow, relaxed, slightly jazz-influenced music perfect for late nights in smoky bars. If only the songwriting was substantial enough to stick with you after the record stopped playing, this might have been a great album.

The songs on the album are heavy on mood and atmosphere but sadly not very memorable on an individual basis. After a few spins the listener will probably remember Kathy Leisen’s breathy, aching vocals and Dave Mies and Aaron Mullan’s dual clean hollow-body electric guitar sound, but not many specifics. Which still leaves Tall Firs Meet Soft Location as a worthy effort and a good album, just not a great one. The slow, bluesy “Glass Rock” starts things off, and it might as well be the band’s mission statement. Bassist Matt Kantor lays down a slow R&B groove while drummer Ryan Sawyer floats around that groove with loose snare and cymbal fills. Liesen plays simple chords on her guitar while singing to an ex-lover about shattered expectations. The other two guitarists work in the considerable space left by the other three, playing off each other in deceptively intricate ways. It’s all over in just over three minutes. The next song, “Ghost of a Dream”, has a slightly darker, even-later-at-night feel, but follows much the same formula.

It’s a good formula, though, one that takes full advantage of Liesen’s voice. For the first time out, it might be a wise choice for the group not to stray too far from what works best for them stylistically, especially considering the song “Beach and Swimming Pool” at the halfway point of the album. It moves a lot quicker than everything else here, and seems to be building into a great big pop-rock song. But just as the track seems ready to take off after two minutes of effective build-up, it ends at the 2:01 mark. It’s almost like the group was apprehensive about really opening up and going for it. After that, it’s back to the late nights in smoky bars for the second half of Tall Firs Meet Soft Location.

Glass Rock definitely carves out a sound of their own on this album, which is a big point in their favor. If they choose to continue as a band and this isn’t just a one-off project, they could definitely take that sound to interesting places. As it is, though, it’s tough to tell a lot of these songs apart. The atmosphere they create is enticing, but the songwriting isn’t very distinctive, which keeps Tall Firs Meet Soft Location from being as good as it could have been.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/126031-glass-rock-tall-firs-meet-soft-location/