That the many voices not go to waste is crucial, since the instrumental parts are as unadventurous as the vocals are exciting.
Essentially, what Tim Perry has put together and calls AgesandAges is not so much a band as it is a way of life -- the cynical might call it a cult. While the band originates in Portland, Perry's intent here is to make music with a group of people that has completely disconnected itself from the world, creating a sound unique to itself, without allegiance to genre, location, or commercial influence. That what eventually came from such an aesthetic goal is so easy to compare to a small pile of other bands is unfortunate, but doesn't detract from what is otherwise an energetic and surprisingly focused debut.
The immediate point of reference, of course, is the Polyphonic Spree, no strangers to being termed a "cult" themselves. Still, that comparison's not quite right, given that there's an insular aura to AgesandAges, while the Spree is extroverted and huge and boisterous all the time. You could make a comparison to Akron/Family, but the fact that AgesandAges is mostly spearheaded by a single person, a single songwriting voice and guiding light, kills that comparison as well. What you really get with AgesandAges is something that sounds a little folk, a little country, and a little indie. There are shades of plenty of bands here, but no obvious immediate comparisons -- a success for Perry.
Another success for Perry is the use of voices on this album. There is constant harmony going on, usually involving Perry singing a lead line and his cohorts singing a harmony line in unison. At pivotal moments of certain songs, however, three and even four-part harmonies arrive. Other songs feature the voices singing three different parts at once, all of them somehow fitting together like some campfire-bound fugue. And yes, there is plenty of unison choir singing, for when something really important is being said.
That these voices not go to waste is crucial, since the instrumental parts are as unadventurous as the vocals are exciting. This is, at heart, run-of-the-mill folk rock, complete with catchy choruses and clever wordplay. There's a guitar, a bass, some drums, a piano, and a pile of singers. Other than the voices, there is nothing extraordinary about it.
And yet, for the most part, it works. Opener "No Nostalgia" starts off with a vague southern rock vibe that carries a stomping groove into extended vocal passages, while "Under a Cloud Shaped Like a Tomb" allows the album to settle in to the relaxed folky sound that defines much of its remainder. Piano ornamentation and gently-strummed guitars back a repetitive vocal line that would be grating if it weren't so sincere. "So So Freely" is a quick, galloping thing that positively soars when it gets rid of the instruments altogether for a little bit toward the end (aside from some brushed snare keeping the beat), allowing the vocals to showcase their strength. Even something like the whimsical and dramatic "Tap on Your Windowpane", which features violins and xylophone amidst the more traditional instruments, somehow manages to be charming rather than overly precious.
Alright, You Restless is a short little album, clocking in at ten tracks and around 37 minutes. For an album whose ambition is as outsized as this one's seems to be, it's positively tiny. Still, it gives us an idea of what Perry is capable of. At the very least, he can write a great folk-rock song with some wondrously theatrical touches.
Me, I hear something like Alright, You Restless and I hear a guy who has a massive-scale rock opera or two in him, should he choose to let it out. This is not a bad way to start a career.