Former Smiths lead singer Morrissey’s career has been marked by an extreme sympathy. He’s the one with compassion for the outcasts, the person willing to talk to the broken and battered. He takes pity upon defenseless children and gives a voice to those suffering in silence. For many the notion of a “bleeding heart” is a cloying kind of problem, to Morrissey it’s a wonderful gift that bears kindness.
On the latest single from the forthcoming World Peace Is None of Your Business, that gift is nowhere to be found. The bleeding heart has been all sutured up. With a valedictory accordion and easily bending guitar notes adjoining him on “The Bullfighter Dies”, Morrissey’s not empathizing the death of a Spanish icon, but celebrating it. In fact between him and the instruments, he seems to be the only one cheering. Every note played in the intro by the trumpet reads as mournful. Not Moz, no he’s laughing through the lamentation. In his mind, the toreador tempts fate by needlessly harassing the innocent bull and whatever befalls him is a fit punishment. The bullfighter knows what he’s getting into and shouldn’t be surprised when the moment of truth finally comes. “Nobody cries” as Morrissey succinctly puts it in his wavering baritone during the rousing chorus. It’s hard to shed a tear for someone we know is going to die.
Titling the A-side from an upcoming 7″ single “Tambourine Light” couldn’t have been a mistake by psych-folk rockers Woods. Before lead singer Jeremy Earl’s voice can begin, his shimmering guitar riff engenders comparisons to The Byrds’ epochal cover of “Mr. Tambourine Man”. It’s not just Earl and his guitar tone; everyone in Woods manages to summon the spirit of the folk-rock originators. Kevin Morby’s barely there, but anchoring bass doesn’t fall far from the Chris Hillman tree. The way Aaron Neveu plays his lilting drummer pattern, Michael Clarke may as well be manning the kit. Even Woods’ soft harmonizing exists on the same spectrum as the Roger McGuinn-led group In the “jingle-jangle morning” it’s clear who Woods are following.
There are digressions though. Earl’s voice is best described as “quietly aching,” whereas McGuinn’s is routinely labelled “nasal” or “drawling.” And while that’s a miniscule difference, it’s an important one. McGuinn sometimes sounded disappointed singing through those nostrils, but you got the sense he’d move past it. With Earl, it’s harder to tell. Sure he’s looking up “past the Sun,” but at what and for how long? “Forever” is a word he let’s go of as the band gels into a restful groove. That said it’s an eternity where the bliss of it being “forever morning” can easily be misconstrued as “forever mourning.” In that period of time he’s pushed creeping shadows away and has felt all sorts of challenges come up “against him.” Hearing Earl describe these struggles you realize if anyone’s ready “for to fade,” it’s him.
(“Tambourine Light” will be out July 8 on Captured Tracks and is backed by “Tomorrow’s Only Yesterday”. You can hear the track here now.)
Post-rock isn’t an easy genre to carve out your own niche in. Too pulverizing and you’ll immediately be lumped in with Swans’ apocalyptic racket. If you opt for a tense, jittery sound you’re bound to be thrown into the same abandoned quarry Slint floats in. Attempting to conquer death with skyward guitars and voluminous drums will put you right in line behind Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Even mellowing out and doing some inward exploration risks unfair Tortoise comparisons. In short, there’s no winning when it comes to operating in the post-rock genre.
Which is precisely what makes Kansas City artists Chris Shelton’s Small Victories EP so revelatory. I think of every one of those aforementioned bands when I see “post-rock” as a genre tag, but the music itself doesn’t force me to make comparisons. In fact hearing “Homework”‘s limpid guitars lines appended to a calm drum pattern, makes the comparison game nearly impossible. I can’t or don’t want to think about anything. Instead I’m far more comfortable kicking my feet up and staring endlessly out my window. The song’s dulcet background woos mirror the sigh of contentment you let out while enjoying something simple.
Not that Small Victories can be defined solely by its simplicity. As leisurely as Shelton’s guitar playing in the closing title-track sounds, it’s actually an involved latticework of tremulous runs and reverbed hiccups. Not unlike Real Estate’s sun-drenched “Talking Backwards” from earlier this year, it proves how much work goes into relaxation. A truism equally applicable to “Indigo Folds”‘ desert crawl. Though the guitar does considerably more sidewinding and the drums splay across the track, you get the sense that soon enough they’ll lay back down on some rolling hill and peer up at the stars.
If the nature references come across as trite or navel-gazing, they’re not meant to. There’s just an ease to this EP that could rarely be found in urban sprawl. Nothing, not even the flitting solo of “Parachutes” sounds anxious or confused. With Small Victories, Shelton has paved his own lane and taken his time doing it.
(You can find Small Victories as a “Name Your Price” album on Bandcamp.)