We may have to answer for all this concrete and rebar, Farina implies, but we've still got to live, and there are worse soundtracks for pushing forward than Atone.
The first Glorytellers record marked a shift for Geoff Farina, away from the jazz-soaked post-rock of Karate and into something more hushed and intimate. The shift worked, with Farina's smooth vocals and shuffling guitar surging quietly through beautiful, not-quite-folk ballads.
But now, with Atone, Farina sounds fully at home with his new band, and that shuffling hush has come alive. The record builds on its predecessor, livening up the guitar work while still shooting for that intimacy. But it also sounds like the country cousin -- one none too pleased with the construction crews bottle-necking his winding roads -- to the city noise of Karate. Like that band, Glorytellers spend Atone stringing tangled guitar work through these songs, and it makes these numbers buoyant in a way Glorytellers couldn't quite reach.
There are folk and blues elements imbedded deep in these songs. Look no further than the epic, stringy bounce of "Softly as She Sings", complete with harmonica and steady, percussive guitar, to feel the blues surging through this record. But the disc is hardly all antiquated musical reference. The way guitars tangle together here -- brightly on "Concaves", or with a grey heft on "Fours" -- come closer to the northeast indie rock circuit that Farina helped build than to those older traditions.
This subtle combination of influences, and Farina's own unique songcraft, makes Atone awfully hard to pin down. At every moment, these songs are on the move. "Concaves" country-drive is sunny and infectious. "Hawaiian Sunshine", with its delicate bed of guitars and hushed percussion draws you in like a secret and never lets you go. In all these songs, Farina has found a new and wonderful way of weaving his intricate, note-heavy guitar work into these compositions, rather than containing them in an extended solo, as so often happened with Karate. In building songs on those clustered notes, rather than setting those notes off, this hush never feels fragile, nor does it slip into sleepy sway.
And, though Glorytellers keeps their tracks reigned in, Farina hasn't lost his knack for the churning epic. The album closes with "Omni Stars" and "Coldest War". The first is all overcast guitars -- chords ring over each other, riffs ring out into the atmosphere. Even the solos Farina plays here feel tethered to every other sound in the song. It's not until you reach the end of the six minutes, and feel hung off a cliff, that you notice the subtle tension and quiet build of the song. And that anti-climax leads perfectly into the smudged haze of "Coldest War". It's, at first, a return to the more stripped-down sounds of the record's start. But here it sustains longer, and as Farina pleads -- wondering "Could you give in a little?" -- instruments run together, harmonica and voice and endless guitars and shimmering percussion all meshed into one bright, brilliant sound.
Consistency, punctuated by moment after moment of surprise, is what makes Atone so good. Throughout the album, this country cousin tells of highways and high-rise buildings, of local businesses sold into new ownership, of the world changing…maybe for the worse. But the hope comes in this sound, in this new album created without leaving the past behind. We may have to answer for all this concrete and rebar, Farina implies, but we've still got to live, and live as best we can. There are worse soundtracks for pushing forward, and looking at what we've got over what we've lost, than Atone.