Cars & Trains' second album is full of low-key acoustic indie-pop backed by laptop-style electronic sounds. It's a combination that works, but it's nothing groundbreaking.
Portland, Oregon's John Filepp is the mastermind behind Cars & Trains. He wrote, recorded, produced, mixed, and played nearly all the instruments on his second album, The Roots, the Leaves. This is good stuff -- low-key acoustic indie-pop that blends seamlessly with laptop electronics. Filepp is hardly the first person to give it a go in this relatively new sub-genre, but he strikes the balance between organic and synthetic better than most. He also seems to know exactly when to drop in slightly unusual instrumentation. The plucking banjo that drives "Asleep on a Train" is a nice touch, and the saxophone duet that gives the instrumental "The Roots" its melody is well-chosen. Filepp's singing is gentle and low-key as well, and fits in nicely with his music. If there's a complaint to be made, it's that Cars & Trains doesn't really seem to be forming its own identity quite yet. The songs here are good, but don't sound particularly fresh. Filepp seems to be heading in the right direction, but the considerable shadow of the Postal Service continues to loom large over this area of indie music.