Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: The Snow – True Dirt

This is a creeper album: go to a party, sneak this into the mix and you won’t drive out anyone for whom Grizzly Bear is a little too threatening, but you may get plenty of “who is this”’s from the purist contingent. What started out as Melomane frontman Pierre de Gaillande’s side project has taken on a life of its own. True Dirt, the Snow’s debut cd validates Gaillande’s decision to work more or less fulltime with two bands. How does this group differentiate itself from Melomane? By contrast, the arrangements are sparse and the instrumentation is more rustic, with standup bass and clarinet prominent in the mix, and Gaillande tones down his guitar a little. Vocal harmonies also figure more in the songs, keyboardist Hilary Downes impressing with a delivery somewhat reminiscent of what Aimee Mann is doing now. The band name is somewhat ironic: this is very warm, accessible, emotionally vivid music.

The cd kicks off with All One, a swinging yet pensive, harmony-driven pop song. The track, which follows, begins characteristically stark and minimalist, supple bass notes punctuating between Gaillande’s guitar arpeggios. Then the drums kick in and the band is off and running. Thirteen Arms Entwined is a playful, somewhat psychedelic number with something of a Split Enz feel, replete with devilish tempo changes and a tongue-in-cheek lyric about the romance between a starfish and an octopus. The following track Poor Boy, Minor Key is an a M. Ward cover with a swinging noir cabaret sensibility.

After that, The Russians goes 6/8 with a characteristically clever, snide Gaillande lyric about Russia’s embrace of Western-style monopoly capitalism. “It’s redemption for us,” the chorus repeats over and over again until the song literally falls apart. New Oxygen is one of the songs Gaillande wrote for the soundtrack to the indie documentary film Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soapbox.

The Lucky One is something of a departure from the rest of the album, a bouncy, leering tune about girlwatching, spiced with Dixieland clarinet flourishes. The Cold has a thoughtful, folkie vibe to it, fingerpicked guitar and clarinet with occasional percussion and bells in the background. Too Clean makes a perfect final cut, trying to find some upside in a bad situation, in this case a relationship going to hell in a handbasket:

I’m living a nightmare chasing a dream…
Upon the dishes in the kitchen sink
I’d rather break the silence

One quibble with this album: the attempt to make a Springsteen cover sexy falls flat on its face. Springsteen is very specifique, as they say in French. Gaillande has had great success in breathing new life into covers, but not this one. Another quibble: they didn’t include their best, eponymous song, one of the latest in Gaillande’s ongoing “disaster song cycle” – it’s a majestic, beautiful epic. But maybe that one’s destined to be a Melomane song instead. Despite this, the Snow’s debut cd is a must for Melomane fans, or for that matter anyone who appreciates a smart turn of phrase or a catchy hook that lingers in your brain long after the album has stopped playing. The Snow play Sullivan Hall (the former Lion’s Den) on June 18.

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May 21, 2008 - Posted by | Music, Reviews

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