steering clear of the mainstream
since 2001

june 2010

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info opinion

The Lonelyhearts

"Disaster Footage at Night" CD

Three Ring Records

Genre: folk rock, indie pop

Iowa City & El Cerrito USA

Oct 17, 2008

Okay, so their press release says they're a folk-rock band and each track reveals a "thoughtful and interesting narrative." Why their PR staff insists on lowering their audience's expectations like that, I'm not sure, but don't believe their false modesty. The Lonelyhearts' latest is more sonically ambitious than they'd care to admit. The lyrics are rambling monologues rather than linear stories, and the arrangements are dense and rockin' by folk-rock standards. And then there's the really awesome thing: how a handful of its songs gradually swell toward immense codas, in which the strolling tempos, mountains of instruments, and wistful lyrical refrains all coalesce into grooves with powerful momentum even though they're pretty slow. In that sense they're kind of like the Besnard Lakes' epics minus the guitar heroism.

One example is freedom-fighter-returns-home epic "Concrete and Chrome," in which a soldier slowly lets on that he's found that his wife has moved on and he's out of his friend's loop, among other calamities. "Where is my parade?/Where is my welcome home?" That's the chorus. After the last chorus and a short pause, the narrator decides, "I should have stayed." Then he repeats that 91 times as the song swells toward its coda, affording you ample time to reflect on what the band is saying. This one's easy: people like this soldier exist, and war imposes hidden costs on them. So their politics are good, which is cool, but I really don't like how the Lonelyhearts make their Big Important Statements through words they put in characters' mouths. This time, it works, but generally it strikes me as insincere. The album's closer, "Black and Blue Devil," is a speech delivered to the only black player on the Duke men's lacrosse team from the perspective of his father, and yes it is every bit as patronizing as it sounds. If there's a point beyond that the dad in question exists, it's beyond me.

I find honest human songs from the gut much more convincing. Like "New Virginia," easily this album's best track. It's a self-deprecating jam about looking for new beginnings everywhere, like New Virginia, Iowa, for such sane reasons as "it seemed like a haven for clean Christian maidens." It sounds just like its lyrics read - guardedly optimistic in depressing times. And because it's a first-person song, it's infinitely more resonant than anything else on the album. Where the Lonelyhearts go from here, who knows, but I'll be listening. They sound fine. I just wish they'd try to be less Big with their Statements. They'd be more Important as a result.

the lonelyhearts' myspace


Rhett Alexander

[Vitals: 9 tracks, distributed by the label, released Sep 16, 2008]