At the time, Sera Cahoone’s decision to leave Band of Horses seemed like a strange one. The band was just getting started, and Everything All the Time was about to blow up big-time. But she was done manning the drum kit, it seemed, after years keeping the beat for Carissa’s Weird before Band of Horses.
Turns out, it was a smart call on her part. Only As the Day Is Long is her second solo record, and now that she’s on Sub Pop, she’s poised to break out all on her own. Her country balladry just might bring enough of the goods to make that happen. Owing much more to the melancholy of Carissa’s Weird than the more bittersweet tendencies of Band of Horses, Cahoone’s new album is dark and quiet and brooding. Her voice, infused with a crooning smoke, delivers down-and-out stories of woe with a genuine feeling behind them. The sad sway of “Baker Lake”, the country-western pluck of “You Might as Well”, and the sneaky drive of percussion behind the title track each establish their own brand of sad quiet, while also coming together to build the album.
Musically, it is an accomplishment. The compositions may be simple, and stripped down, but the execution is spot-on. These songs aren’t influenced by country, they are country. And it takes a great musician to make that difference. Cahoone shows herself to be surprisingly adroit as a guitarist and as a songwriter, leaving most of the drums to others in favor of being a full-on frontwoman.
Of course, the fact that “Baker Lake”, the only song she drums on, is consequently the best song on the album might be an argument for her picking up more percussive slack on her next record. In comparison to her careful brushes and subtly complicated beat, some of the other drumming here sounds thin. These are not, of course, songs served by beefed-up drums, but they could use a little flair from time to time.
Similarly, while these songs are well composed and surely pleasant, even affecting, from beginning to end, they stop just short of being distinct. Only As the Day Is Long isn’t quite a Sera Cahoone record yet. Her songs don’t come off as recognizably hers. Someone coming upon these songs without knowing who they are by could run through a slew of female singer names before landing on Cahoone. The country sound of these songs, one we’ve surely heard before, is not what holds her back, though. In the end, it is how these songs tell stories.
This record is a big improvement from the first record in that regard, and Cahoone is solid when it comes to setting a mood, and earnestly conveying sadness. She can also pick up a detail when she needs to — the minutia of a hotel room, the choice of a specific word, a subtle change in inflection. But these strengths go underused on Only As the Day Is Long. The weight of the album rests on the instrumentation and latent, undefined emotion. That combination hardly disappoints, but those alone keep this good album from being a great one.
Cahoone is making strides on Only As the Day Is Long, without question. And with the improvements we’ve seen from album one to album two, it is clear she is taking the long view, trying to improve some with each step. In that regard, her new album is a total success. As a stand-alone piece of great music, though, it falls just short. It’s an album in a decent limbo, stuck where it is too good to be disappointing, but not good enough to be more memorable than it is.