Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Strays Don’t Sleep - Strays Don’t Sleep Review

Strays Don’t Sleep - Strays Don’t Sleep
One Little Indian

Strays Don’t Sleep are an eccentric alliance of two Nashville-based songwriters with a shared love for those doomy Scottish romantics The Blue Nile. Neilson Hubbard and Matthew Ryan have both gained more critical acclaim than record sales in their respective careers, trailing in the wake of the likes of Ryan Adams. Yet on these wonderful nine tracks the pair have ditched the stylised shorthand of the singersongwriter genre. This is much weirder, a splintered, drifting collection of loops, synths, acoustic guitars and quality songs.
This is a cinematic record (there is a set of films on a separate DVD), haunting and ghostly. The songs build from tiny fragments, little keyboard riffs, drum patterns, sparse melodies. They unfold like daylight in winter. The contrast in their respective voices adds interesting counterpoint. Hubbard sounds like Robert Mitchum singing lyrics penned by Sylvia Plath. Ryan’s voice is a little cleaner but has the steely edge of an executioner’s axe. When they intertwine across the minimalist backing tracks the results are stunning.
For Blue Skies is pure musical melancholy. The delicate static drum loops and fractured piano allows room for the pain to flow through. It’s the space, the stillness that carries the emotional weight. The melody is picked out on a lone piano, the notes falling like snow on cedars, the guitar muted and aching, it’s stark undertow dragging you into its depths. Martin Luther Avenue is existentialist dread set to drum machines and guitars. New Years eve ennui set to a plaintive whirling organ informs Cars and History.

Tony Heywood (C)

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