The Designer’s Drugs: Uncles – Replacing Words with Other Words

Medium: Album

Stimulus: Uncles – Replacing Words with Other Words

Anno: 2010

I’m not sure if I received a bad copy of this album, but the first track on Uncles’ album has a few glitches in production.  The first verse of “Deaf Dumb Dog” abruptly repeats and restarts the song, which runs along normally until it ends mid-sentence.  As there are no other such anomalies on this rather pretty collection of beat folk, I’ll give this misstep the benefit of the doubt.

The majority of Replacing Words with Other Words consists of wailing poetry running alongside acoustic guitar, the core fleshed out with faint bursts of bass, strings, and a hollow-sounding piano.  “Fishnets and Luncheonettes” is the one song to fully buck this formula with emphasis placed upon the piano, imitating a rainstorm.  Within the established procedure, the most notable song is “Hackensack,” in which the vocals and guitar parallel an organ in rising strength.

At its very worst, Replacing Words with Other Words feels like Uncles is trying a bit too hard to mix its poetic sensibilities with a country twang.  There are a few lyrical oddities (“Deaf Dumb Dog” compares a prickly leg to a Founding Father), and the vocal strain is most pronounced in the suburban drawl of the otherwise serviceable “Settler’s Song.”  Yet in total, Uncles provides a solid catalyst for quiet contemplation which is as notable for its words as for its moods.

The Designer’s Drugs: Smile Brigade – Do You Come Here Often?

Smile Brigade

Medium: Album

Stimulus: Smile Brigade – Do You Come Here Often?

Anno: 2010

The easy label to affix to Smile Brigade’s breed of music is psychedelic rock; most of the songs on Do You Come Here Often? bear some resemblance to the tunes of the 60s.  “Killjoy Switch,” in particular, sounds like a revamp of “Incense and Peppermints.”  Yet lumping this group in with the hippies would undermine the diversity of its aim.  The brightness of a keyboard track like “Mothers’ Day Song” is able to give way to an unbroken melancholy such as that of “Gold in Them Hills” without becoming unbalanced.  Some of the songs go so far as to take a decidedly modern tack; “Post Script” is a modest piano ballad which brings out some accordion for quirk, and “Esperanto” is a sneering rock track which would be at home in a poorly-lit saloon.

Smile Brigade’s work on Do You Come Here Often? doesn’t coast on retro cred to get its point across.  The songs on this album, while often nostalgia-inducing, bring enough strength to render them original within the many different styles they honor.