Son Volt: The Search

Vladimir Wormwood

Son Volt looks for a new place on The Search.

Son Volt

The Search

Label: Legacy
US Release Date: 2007-03-06
UK Release Date: Available as import

A delicate, echoing piano chimes a couple chords before indicating the spry melody of "Slow Hearse", the first track on Son Volt's The Search. There is a lonesome tinge to the piano and to the strain in Jay Farrar's voice as he begins the track's mantra vocal of "feels like drivin' 'round, in a slow hearse". The words are almost morbid and yet the instrumental accompaniment that builds, and the resolution that builds in the vocal leave a hopeful taste to the lament. It serves as a fine initial guidepost along The Search, which is littered with heartbreak but must be an ultimately purposeful affair.

This leads into "The Picture" which noisily subsumes any melancholy with driving, infectious horns. There are elements of Warren Zevon and E, of the Eels, in the singing and this becomes something of a troubling realization, but more of that later. The repetition of "we'll know when we get there" furthers the resolution of the textual journey plotted in the title. What can be delicate and introspective can as easily be conveyed in rough bombast.

The latter method is further evidenced in "Action" which tumbles about a descending guitar riff. Vocals accompany the descent and lyrics are jumbled together, vying for a little room to dictate all that must be said. If this sounds a little jumbled, it certainly is and reveals one of the shortcomings of these tunes. Too often Farrar sounds like he has too much to say and a less than keen sense for editing himself. There are a number of songs which bear the amateur ear-mark of shoving too many lyrics into too little rhythmic space instead of settling on something more simple and memorable. Hooks are hard to come by as repetition alone does not make a phrase remarkable or resonant. Especially if said phrase does not rise by somehow distinguishing itself from Farrar's whirlwind mumble.

And there's that voice that borrows considerably from E and surrounds itself in folksy, blues-rock that looks longingly to a style the Eels have all but perfected. It is a hard comparison to shake and proves to be a lingering disappointment. Wouldn't the high range of E add a welcome dynamic to the cluttered lyricism? Or the same applied to more tender moments would actually lend them some needed pathos.

The titular track combines an uplifting, lilting vocal with a crunchy, grunge guitar. Farrar's high assurances of "always dreamin', it’s the search not the find" are paraded forth on a crest of guitar and organ. The drums are big and insistent. It may all sound a bit like a throwback to a not-so-bygone era but it is a pleasant reminder of the particular joy of the "alternative" scene. It's just this side of a hazy slacker anthem, perhaps that mentality in a new millennium. Perhaps this is the search the album is preoccupied with: finding one's comfort as time continually alienates, reforming your old band with new personnel, and acknowledging the past while venturing forward as you cannot help but do.

The Search has moments of actual beauty. Interestingly these are marked by longing but in a plaintive, honest manner. "Adrenaline and Heresy" cannot say it all and understands its own inability to communicate. Farrar speaks of a troubled relationship admitting that "a collection of words can't describe it". Even hackneyed "crossroads" imagery is excused by the lonesome resignation in delivery. The comparison invoked is favorable this time sounding close to the pretty hopelessness of a Zevon ballad. And the pick-up coda doesn't really sound like the familiar device it is. It just fits, it is of a piece.

Aside from some standout songs, reactions to The Search are largely due to how you feel about the grungy, alt sound. It may be sweetly familiar. If this is the case the new Son Volt is right on. It may start to sound muddled and uninspired. It may sound out of step. The use of the phrase "you want fries with that?" in the not-so-vicious indictment of "Automatic Society" is mostly lame. Similarly complaining about televangelism on "Methamphetamine" undermines the beauty of the slide guitar melody with a clumsy old saw. But no one said this was the final word. In fact the record is real up-front about what's going on here. This is just part of the journey, there's always more to figure out.







A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.


The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.


Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.


Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.


HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.


Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.


Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.


'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.


'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.


Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.


DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.


JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.


​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.


Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times


Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.


How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.


Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.


Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.