Thursday, January 22, 2009

Springhouse -- From Now To OK

Springhouse – From Now To OK (Independent Project)

Bands come and go for a number of reasons, with lack of money, one member fucking the girlfriend of another member and drugs amongst the popular choices (this would make a good Family Feud question: “Your answer?” “Uh…fucking the lead singer’s girlfriend…” “Oh, the ol’ fucking the lead singer’s girlfriend…survey says…[DING!]…26!”). Which means that talented acts never fully cultivate and develop and bring ideas and talents to full fruition.

This is why I am decidedly pro-reunion. Sure, reigniting the spark can be hard, and often we learn that a band should have left well enough alone as the well ran dry while the band was dissolved. But there are a lot bands who are shitty from day one, so what’s the big deal?

On the other hand, reunions can lead to reinvigorated bands who finally get to finish some of the business that had been laying in the in box for far too long. Mission Of Burma, The Effigies, Radio Birdman…and now Springhouse joins that group of great second time around bands. Perhaps Springhouse isn’t as well known as those three acts, and I don’t know if the band’s two albums from its initial run quite rank up with those three. But they were quite good.

On Land Falls, Springhouse played songs rooted in post-punk and shoegazer sounds, dominated by Mitch Friedland’s shimmering guitar parts and soaring vocals, with measured insistent backing from Larry Heinemann on bass and Big Takeover publisher Jack Rabid on drums. On the follow up, Postcards From The Arctic, the band stretched out as the sound became more spacious and atmospheric. It seemed that Springhouse was poised to really explore its sound on a third album…which never came.

Until now. And album number three finds the band taking a different turn. Whereas Postcards felt like being stranded in a vast and wonderful wilderness, as Friedland’s voice came out from the middle of the webs of guitars, bass and drums, From Now To OK is startlingly intimate.

Which isn’t to say that the sound isn’t any less full. But instead of colors bleeding onto each other, every instrument on this album is well defined, including the strings and horns that augment many of the songs.

And those songs! The melodies are stronger than ever, and some of the tunes seem strongly inspired by the baroque pop greats of the ‘60s. That being said, there are things here that stamp this distinctively as Springhouse. There’s a moment on the languid “No More Yesterdays” that exemplifies this. It’s an inviting mid-tempo jangle that almost lulls one to sleep. In the second half of the chorus, the melody heads downward before a little rise at the end. I can’t explain it very well, other to say that this little wrinkle is in the band’s DNA, just like the special wrinkles songwriters like Andy Partridge, Jeff Lynne and Joe Pernice have.

Coming after this is a song that is delicate and whispery, yet it has a bit of anthem in it. “Grateful” has pensive verses, sketching a relationship (or two) on the skids, with the chorus releasing pent up frustration in a measured fashion, Friedland sounding angelic in the uppermost parts of his range, which brings home the moving middle eight, where he basically notes that sometimes you just have to deal with pain.

Freidland’s vocals highlight perhaps the best song on the disc, “10 Count”. It’s a simple boxing metaphor. When your girl knocks you down, “stay on your knees”. After a couple verses and choruses, the band gives way to Lief Arntzen’s extended trumpet solo, which is gripping and amplifies the emotions that Friedland has been portraying.

Springhouse masterfully incorporates horns and strings into the sound. The sweep of the strings is particularly stirring on “Pomegranite Tree”. Indeed, only Friedland’s acoustic guitar and voice join the elegant backing. The starkness of the upfront guitar meshes well with the full accompaniment behind it.

The lusher numbers are generally the best, but there’s more fine jangle on “Moving Van” and Jack Rabid provides a plaintive vocal on the folk-pop “Time Runs Out”. And the shoegazing is not completely absent. The most atmospheric number is the impressive “Sea and Rain”, which has a chorus that bursts from the murk, and the closing track, “Anew”, features some guitar affects on an album where the unadorned acoustic guitar reigns (and the basic acoustic is featured on this track too).

This wasn’t exactly what I expected. It’s even better than I expected, and I figured this album would be pretty good. It’s obvious that these guys continued to grow musically and all of the growth is apparent from the sophistication of these songs. More importantly, I think that this album is imbued with feeling that makes it one of the more resonant albums to come out in 2008.

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