Saturday, June 30, 2012
Desert Wasn't Welcome - French Quarter
Desert Wasn't Welcome
I saw a terrific show down at the Speakeasy in Long Beach earlier this year. It featured my beloved Finches and the Key Losers as well as a promising new group called Pageants featuring Rebecca Coleman formerly of Avi Buffalo. The headliner was Stephen Steinbrink who I wasn't all that familiar with. I noticed this large odd-looking fellow who looked like a goofy high school jock helping set up the stage for the Key Losers and I thought "Oh wow, Katy found herself a roadie." I was surprised when he strapped on a bass and started playing stunningly melodic bass lines behind her while contributing some gorgeous background harmony vocals. After her set finished, I was even more surprised when this guy tied a scarf around his head like a Russian babushka and took to the stage to deliver a mesmerizing set of sensitive and beautifully sung songs. You rarely see a rock show where everyone is silent, staring raptly at the performer, but this was one such show. I was really impressed. Steinbrink is the leader of French Quarter and this is their latest LP which I bought from K Records mail order. The album opens with my favorite song on the record, "Goodbye Alligator Skin." Some people think of Indie Rock as being arty or inaccessible, but really this song ought to be on the radio. It has a lovely synthesizer line running through it, a good beat and a sweet pop feel to it despite its sardonic lyrics. Steinbrink sings in a high, delicate voice which seems incongruous when you look at him, but it is totally convincing on record. It is followed by "Unemployed Minor" which has a sparer arrangement. I really enjoy the guitar/piano interplay in the instrumental breaks which are very energetic. Steinbrink's bandmates, Preston Bryant and Chase Kemp, share composition credit on "Dead Flowers." It is a moody song with a wonderful guitar workout from Steinbrink that reminds me a bit of Television. He's an imaginative player and his solos are very clear and fluid. "Lucky Passing Dream" is another lovely pop song. It is light and airy with a compelling hook. With its romantic lyrics, its strong bass/percussion foundation and its elegant guitar riffing on top, one can almost imagine it on a Fleetwood Mac album in the late 1970s. Classic rock does seem to be an influence on Steinbrink, but in his hands it sounds fresh and modern. Side A ends with "Checks & Balances" which is an uptempo song with a driving beat. It is about as close as French Quarter comes to rocking out but in keeping with the band's style it is always very melodic. Side B opens with a weird little instrumental called "50 Lashes." "I Want A New Friend" is my second favorite song on the record. I love the chiming folk-rock style guitar work. It is a majestic tune with a classic rock flavor although I can't really think of any classic rock group that would write a song about finding a friend without trying, Steinbrink's lyrics are typically idiosyncratic. "Red State" is about living in a conservative state (in Steinbrink's case Arizona) and experiencing personal freedom outside it. It is another sweet, poppy sounding song that sounds like it should be on the radio. "Soul Mates" is the only non-original on the album. It fits in well with the other tunes although the lyrics are a lot more direct than Steinbrink's typically are. "Creosote" is a quiet, introspective song that chronicles Steinbrink's thoughts while staying home. It sounds precious and twee, but the low key vocal gives it a little weight making it seem more substantial. The album ends with the group composition "Got Ideas." It has a slight Latin flavor to it and a little bit of funkiness as well. It gives the album a strong finish. I like this record a lot and play it often. Musically the group is very strong, if I have any complaint, it is that the lyrics can be pretty obscure. Steinbrink comes up with a lot of interesting, poetic imagery, but the songs' lyrical impact is muted generally. Recommended for fans of Pinback and Low.