Filed under: Releases of the Week | Tags: ...but you've always been the caretaker, album reviews, David Bowie, deserter's songs, Embryonic, Justin russo, Mercury Rev, Pink Floyd, Releases of the Week, The Dark Side of the Moon, The Flaming Lips, the silent league, ziggy stardust
PREVIEW: VISIT The Silent League’s Website
WE GIVE IT: 17/20 Watts
With Deserter’s Songs, Mercury Rev almost unwittingly mastered the art behind chamber-grounded art rock over a decade ago. While The Silent League‘s third full-length isn’t quite as precious and not as eclectic as that seminal ’90s classic, as of January, 2010, it’s the closest analogue we have to it. Some of this has to do with the fact that Justin Russo and his brother Jason left Mercury Rev in 2001 to focus their attention on other projects (like The Silent League). More of it is the fact that …But You’ve Always Been the Caretaker might already be one of the year’s best albums.
The range of influences to be heard on this unassumingly pleasant little album stretch from space to the intimate corners of the bedroom. Between the album’s instrumental bookends “Egg Shaped” and “How and Why Our Dads Lost the War,” we hear varying degrees of synths and other assorted electronica, Justin Russo’s vocal croons and sterling instrumentation.
The expansive record picks up with its third track, “Yours Truly, 2095.” One of the better songs released this year, it begins with a simple synth riff but mixes strings, distorted vocals and more conventional instrumentation to form a calculated mess sound that propels itself through the annals of the distant future and long-distant relationships. “Little i,” a much slower, much tenderer song follows it, as if the band were taking a breather.
These two songs color the album fairly well. It has its fair share of (post-)rocking songs (the instrumental “Rules of Disengagement,” “Resignation Studies”) while still making time for its softer, lullaby-ready material (“Day Planner,” “Ohio Winter Conventioners”). In addition, like the best of the Elephant Six’s output, the entire production is filled with horns and overdubbed vocals that would be schmaltzy if they weren’t so addictive. Crescendos swell up seemingly out of nowhere for climaxes matched in their bombast only by the songs’ lilting denouements (“I Go,” “Final Chapter Meetings”). Some David Bowie wannabe vocals circa-Ziggy Stardust even pop up before the end of “Here Is the Star.”
As closely as this band and this album are related to Mercury Rev, The Silent League play a softer brand of music. …But You’ve Always Been the Caretaker is not quite quieter than Russo’s old band, but it is subtler, at least compared to their recent material. Russo and Co. have constructed an album that plays indelibly well as an album, and not just a collection of songs — important certainly to art rock, but essential to new prog. That isn’t to say that The Silent League are quite new prog, but one can hardly deny how much this full-length wants to be its generation’s Dark Side of the Moon. Either way they did a better job at it than The Flaming Lips did last year with Embryonic.
— Eric Vilas-Boas