Friday, February 12, 2010

Home: Seventeen

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Home's latest album, Seventeen, opens with "Hello From Texas," a distorted blast of lo-fi that makes John Darnielle's earliest recordings sound pristine by comparison. It's a bold way to open an album for a band whose following is modest at best...and a good way to lose listeners who may not have the patience to navigate through the various stylistic exercises that comprise the album. If listeners have the attention span to ride it out, though, they'll find plenty to like among the album's 15 tracks, even if Seventeen isn't the band's most consistent release and will likely primarily be of interest only to the band's current fans.

To be sure, the album is far from flawless and may not be fully appreciated by those who aren't familiar with the quartet's brand of indie pop. There's a fair amount of silliness here: middle tracks "Wall Walker," "L-O-V-E" and "Gladdy Glad" all exhibit the sophomoric humor and blatantly simplistic rhyme schemes that occasionally reared their heads on concept album Sexteen, which never could be accused of exactly being subtle anyway. Though these songs become - somewhat - more palatable with repeated listens and certain self-serious indie bands could benefit from Home's example, their goofiness nearly renders them throwaways. "Gladdy Glad" in particular stinks of schmaltz, with a catchy and carnival-like pop arrangement that's weighed down by awkward, sappy lyrics. The song is excessively cute to the point of the listener's annoyance; its attempts at tongue-in-cheek humor fall flat, and it's the type of overly optimistic song that makes its love-struck narrator sound like the most obnoxious and irritating fool in the room.

Seventeen is in many ways a tale of two albums: if the record's lighthearted tracks are mostly forgettable, the band is at its best on the album's more heartfelt and, for lack of a better term, serious tracks. "Pop! Pop!" plays like a passable redux of standard garage rock and album closer "Walking Talking Slab Of Heaven" is a convincing and wonderfully screwed up stab at country music, but a handful of other songs most effectively play to the band's lyrical and instrumental strengths and make the album worth hearing. "Easter Snow" consists of nothing more than a simple acoustic guitar, patches of static interference and understated vocal harmonies that are heavy with a sense of distance and loneliness. It's the album's most conventional and outstanding moment, and - with the images and emotions it invokes - almost unbearably sad. "Any Way That You Go" has a similar tone and style, as the song's unassuming vocals fit the arrangements perfectly. Sometimes less is more, even for a lo-fi band with experimental leanings like Home; both songs exhibit the type of restraint and accessibility that are too frequently missing from much of the album.

Seventeen won't embarrass its creators, but it won't be considered Home's finest moment either. There are several slight and empty songs here that likely should have been omitted for the album's overall benefit, but goddamn, "Easter Snow" is a fantastic track deserving to be heard by a wide audience. One standout track and few other keepers certainly don't make an entire album essential, but these are one more than many other bands cut from a similar cloth as Home ever manage to achieve.

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