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Glossary: How We Handle Our Midnights

Patrick Schabe


How We Handle Our Midnights

Label: Undertow
US Release Date: 2003-04-22

It's always a dubious thing to assert that a band has "the feel" of a particular locale. There are always more cultural elements in one location than can be summed up in one particular sound, especially when you're describing a whole region. So it's a little bit meaningless to suggest that Glossary is a Southern rock band, as that's a pretty wide open categorization.

However, there is a definite tradition to Southern indie rock and guitar pop, particularly in Glossary's own Tennessee. Falling more on the side of Superdrag and less on the side of the Judybats, Glossary merges indie rock and alt-country into a blend that would appeal in equal parts to fans of the Replacements, Whiskeytown, and Pavement. Actually, this has been something of a development for the band, which got its start in the noisier indie guitar rock fare of Modest Mouse and Sonic Youth. But after two albums (1998's Southern by the Grace of Location and 2000's This Is All We've Learned about Living), the band has matured into something of a hybrid, while still retaining a distinct power pop undertone.

This maturity is actually at the heart of Glossary's third release, How We Handle Our Midnights. Vocalist and songwriter Joey Kneiser was inspired by the aging process to write the songs on Midnights, a collection of tracks that mark the progress into work-a-day middle age. All of these songs are meant to reflect on life during the "post-work part of the day", particularly that life within semi-rural Tennessee. If the title and music of their debut disc attempted to distance Glossary from their Southern roots, Midnights finds the band in an uneasy acceptance of their surroundings.

Lyrically, How We Handle Our Midnights is a wistful and bitter collection of stories, literate and full of imagery of long and lonely nights. This kind of miserable emoting would probably be too much to bear if it weren't for the raspy, weary-but-determined voice of Kneiser (particularly when it's backed by Kelly Smith's high, wispy vocals) and the band's ability to keep a song alive with surging guitars and thick rock tempos. Songs about drinking too much, the loneliness of the night, the unreachable phantom of success, and the blues inspired by hopes aren't anything new, but they're often hard to swallow in large doses when a band is mired in their own despair. Fortunately, Glossary's music is fun enough to make it a well-balanced diet, easy to listen to and easy to commiserate with.

Not everything about Midnights is successful, however. In a few of these tracks the guitar leads are built on foregrounded repetition of riffs or melodies. On a song like "Lonesome Stray" it works to build a chanting rhythm for the choruses, but on "Golden Houses" it's overdone. A part of the problem is that the track intentionally builds a tension, using the looping guitar notes and insistent rhythm to promise a thunderous chorus in the near future. Unfortunately, that moment never comes. The tension and repetition build to a point and then continue, constantly ebbing, until you almost just want it to stop. Instead of stopping or finally breaking into a crashing release of a chorus, the song just changes, shifting into a brand new melody that maddeningly keeps to almost the exact same tempo. Fortunately the producer, Brian Carter, had the insight to follow "Golden Houses" with "When Easy Street Gets Hard to Find", one of Glossary's up-tempo rock numbers.

But, in spite of a few missteps, How We Handle Our Midnights is a great disc. It's not innovative enough to grab your attention on novelty alone, but it's a musical joyride through some dark topics and broken-hearted tales, floating between down-and-out and rocking out. Tracks like "These City Lights Shine", "At Midnight", and "The Rutherford County Line" are guaranteed head-boppers, while the beautiful duet of "Lonesome Stray" and the sadly sparse "Daylight Saving" are endearing in just the right way to make you actually feel for the songs' characters.

Glossary may or may not be Southern rock -- or at least, Southern indie rock -- but that doesn't really matter. It's sound may pay homage to the band's corner of the world, but its themes are universal, and its music ready-made for any audience who enjoys a nice mix of electric and pedal steel guitars, some power pop guitars giving way to twangy contemplation, and a gravely drawl. It may not seem like the most important album you've ever heard, but you'll find yourself going back to it time and time again.

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