[3 May 2005]
This seven song EP from Follow the Train is chock-full of delicate melodies and sweet instrumentation inspired by the likes of the Church, R.E.M., and the Cure. Founder and songwriter Denis Sheridan crafts songs that are much more earnest than many of his peers. Thoughts of new wave-inspired bands often evoke thoughts of hipsters a little too cool for their own good; thoughts of mild interest but ultimate disappointment. The sense of irony that pervades many of these bands’ identity is ultimately what keeps them safe and spooning in the cradled arms of the critic, but it also keeps them distanced from the listener. That is, unless you may have seen them at the North Six or Maxwell’s, you may be likely to hear the music with a detached sense of, “yeah, it’s alright”.
Follow the Train is slightly different. They are not from New York, nor have they recently immigrated there to take advantage of a once burgeoning, now saturated music scene. They are from Louisville, Kentucky. Not the type of place that earns immediate respect in the eyes of the critical masses, but one where Sheridan was fortunate enough to surround himself with three friends talented enough to have earned a recent appearance at the South by Southwest festival and release a seven song EP that shows solid potential. The music is thick and atmospheric without employing claustrophobic keys and bass; The Great Disturbance couches a dense sound with jangly guitars.
The album’s opener fades in ambient keyboards that continue to echo at a distance throughout the rest of the song, laying a subtle foundation for the melody. Sheridan nearly whispers through most of the song. The hushed tone of his voice is one of the largest reasons that The Great Disturbance isn’t more overbearing. Instead of trying to browbeat the listener into getting the song with his vocals, he beckons the listener closer and closer until the song has grabbed firmly hold. It isn’t until the chorus of the band’s semi-successful local radio single “Wake Up” that Sheridan raises his voice above his whisper, sounding like an exhausted and maybe a little hoarse David Bowie—or, British Sea Power.
“Lower than Low” is all brooding vocals and tinny guitars set against Bill Green’s crisp drumming. Although many would be predisposed to compare the track to a band far more impressive to namedrop in a review, I couldn’t help but think at any minute (technically at minute 1:04) that David Gilmour was going to slide sideways into the song and rip one of his killer leads. The first half of this song is all Pink Floyd’s Division Bell; the second half is not, and it’s a shame because the first portion, despite its snail’s pace, is one of the strongest points on the album.
The Great Disturbance shows a lot of promise, but it also has flaws. More than seven songs and the album would have begun to meander into the background. Five songs in and I began to find the songs most indistinguishable from one another. The jangly guitars—I never thought I would say this—actually begin to grow stale. And Sheridan’s subdued vocals begin to loose their grip and ultimately become benign.
In spite of this, Follow the Train’s debut is ultimately a success, riding the strength of atmospheric guitars and keys, crisp drumming, and Sheridan’s hushed vocals. The sound cultivated here isn’t the most original but the lack of irony or posturing adds an honesty that much more critically claimed bands lack.