|Too Few Detours: Minus Six, “Come Out from Where You Hide”; November 27 at RIBCO|
|Music - Feature Stories|
|Written by Jeff Ignatius|
|Friday, 22 November 2013 13:15|
On Minus Six’s new album Come Out from Where You Hide, “Grassfed” boldly announces itself with gorgeously intertwined fast runs on sax and piano – downhill, then up, and back down again, a deft flash of early jazz grafted onto verses of piano rock. The instrumental breaks elevate the whole, with pianist Kevin Carton and saxophonist Matt Sivertsen given the space to playfully develop and explore.
It’s telling that these sections represent the whole of the song’s progression, as the verses and chorus are (relatively speaking) inert – which is where the album falters as a whole. The dominant style and overly consistent mix don’t sustain interest over the course of the record, and fertile detours don’t come quite often enough.
That’s not a problem at all on the tight “Burn,” which is bracing in a way similar to “Grassfed” but more thoroughly, with urgency and a level of detail and variation in the singing to match what’s happening with the piano and the creamy honk of the saxophone.
Those are my two favorite songs on Come Out from Where You Hide, which has plenty of other highlights. There’s the almost tangible yearning of Carton’s singing that’s mirrored in the bass on jaunty lead track “Orion’s Belt.” The jarringly sudden discordant shift of “Lucid Dreaming,” announced by the sax and brought to fruition by the piano – with a sunny chorus shoving the clouds away just as quickly. And the writing and vocal phrasing at the beginning of “Lullaby,” pleading but clear-eyed: “The power’s out / There’s more important things than paying bills on time.”
I could go on, and there’s no doubt that Come Out ... is a collection of polished, skillful songs. Yet while it’s by no means bloated, the album’s 15 tracks (running just under an hour) become strangely numbing – a function of the quartet’s choice to work with such a static palette and within such a narrow dynamic range. The songs are varied, but in their mildness they blend together after a while.
Minus Six (which also features Kameron Rummans on bass and Rob Baner on drums) bills itself as a rock band without guitar, but in reality there’s precious little rockin’. “Grassfed” references times when “the music’s pumpin’” in a chorus meant to get a rise out of the listener, but Carton’s voice – which has echoes of Peter Gabriel – and the music are simply not forceful enough to be convincing.
So Come Out ... leans too heavily on earnest ballads and pleasant piano pop – both good fits for the band in small doses. “Let Me Come Around” is the high point in the latter style, with its catchy chorus and tonal digressions that pack a lot into just over three minutes.
But even with the songs’ structural adventurousness, it often feels like something is missing. There’s a sterile sameness in the production and mix that reminds me of musical theatre in the prominence and clarity of the vocals and Carton’s held-back articulation of the lyrics; the need to be understood trumps variety and messy emotion.
Perhaps more damaging are lost opportunities, hints of promising paths not taken. The jazzy, energetic instrumental interplay of “Grassfed” and the ukulele, whistling, and French lyrics on closing track “L’oiseau s’enfuit” show that Minus Six isn’t timid. Unfortunately, Come Out from Where You Hide too often is.
Minus Six will play an album-release show at RIBCO (1815 Second Avenue, Rock Island) on Wednesday, November 27, starting at 9:30 p.m.
For more information on Minus Six, visit MinusSix.com.
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