Just in time for your trip home for the holidays, Robert Wratten of Trembling Blue Stars offers you 16 tracks of long stares at ex-lovers across uncomfortably familiar rooms. If you're so inclined, you can let this record spin while you awkwardly shake an old friend's hand in slow motion, trying to disguise the blurry tears welling up in your drunken eyes. Oh right, it's just the wind you hear -- not the secret laughter of your best friend and your high school sweetheart, who just happen to be engaged. Don't worry: Wratten knows all about it. Apparently, he's been through the ringer. His characters like to spend their time getting jilted at the airport and contemplating the jukebox. We all gotta go home, so somebody has to write the soundtrack.
That being said, the opener, "Helen Reddy", is a bit of an anomaly. Fronted by So Cal native Beth Arzy, the track has a kinetic '90s energy à la Velocity Girl. But don't be fooled: for the next hour you're going to relive -- through a rain streaked window -- that confrontation you had with your sister six years ago about her pill addiction. Despite clocking in at a hefty six and half minutes, the floating new wave refrain of "Sorrow Has a Way" is rewarding and memorable, as are similarly paced endeavors like "Moonlight on Snow" and "All Eternal Things". It's the perfect music for kicking snow around in the backyard while you try to avoid that shitty conversation with your recently divorced brother who's having a little bit of trouble picking up the 'ol pieces. A song like "The Sea is So Quiet" practically qualifies as an upbeat dance track, given its context, and "All I'm Doing is Losing" has a pretty, golden-oldies, '70s tinge.
The problem is this: somewhere around track nine the casual listener is going to get a little frustrated by the deliberately maudlin sadness of the proceedings. Everything would be fine if the record ended after, say, 11 or 12 songs, but the inclusion of four bonus tracks pushes the envelope to 16, thus creating the dreaded desperation overload. I, for one, recommend saving the last eight or so tracks for next year's trip back home. There's plenty of heartbreak going around. You never know when your mom might insist on flipping through photo albums of your dead dog.