Thursday, July 31, 2008
Undoubtedly, most of the people that will flock to the new collaboration between Nick Thorburn and Jim Guthrie are aware of their previous output and will bring up The Unicorns or Islands. Personally, I think I'd be ok never hearing an Islands record again and it was Guthrie's beautiful voice that drew me in. But after a few listens of Moody Motorcyle, I realized that Nick's contributions on this record are crucial and help the project evolve into something much more than a collection of folky tracks.
The opening riff of The Sound is probably the most instantaneous sound I've heard this year. Jim and Nick's voice mesh perfectly and the quirky folk riff sticks in your brain and you find yourself singing along even before you know the words. But it's when the xylophone breakdown comes in,the album really takes off. It's hard to imagine Thorburn slowing down and creating a record full of doo-wap harmonies and tender melodies that could have been written in the 50s or 60s, but that is exactly what they've done.
Don't get me wrong, there is nothing dated about the release - the foundation may be rooted in familiarity; the beautiful track My Beach floats by effortlessly and Sleep Talking could have been sung at a prom back in the day - but almost every song uses quirky elements and strong lyrical choices to quickly bring you back to the present. The interesting breakdown and depression that riddles the tropical vibe of My Beach (the whole album really) might go unnoticed until you get crank up your headphones, but shows how creative this duo can be when focused properly. The arrangements are complex, but never overwhelming. Every element is clear and as a result (at least for me) more enjoyable than a lot of the Islands songs.
I know Jim and Nick were trying to write songs that let their vocals weave around each other (Ope to Abner showcases their stellar harmonies) and wanted the process to be pretty casual, but I'm not sure even they could have predicted how strong the end results would be. Pretty Hair starts with only a distant vocal line and chime, but explodes into a terrific pop song. The searing Moody Motorcycle adds just enough energy to keep the album pushing forward. Really, there's not a song I don't like. Any way you look at it, Human Highway should renew your faith in Nick's talents and confirm Guthrie is criminally underrated.
For more fun, read the great Off the Record segment Jim did for Aquarium Drunkard. Oh, and while you are there, buy all the J Tillman record's Justin's label just released.