I've got a little confession to make. When I heard that the Promise Ring were breaking up, I was happy to hear it. Now, don't think that I was anti (heh, irony!)-Promise Ring. I wasn't. In fact, I really thought that they were getting better with each successive record, because each record found them moving further and further away from their "emo" roots. Wood/Water wasn't a bad record at all, though it's easy to understand why those who loved the band were disappointed. The Promise Ring decided to make their record, and fans and critics alike weren't prepared for what they heard. I don't know if this is why they recently called it quits, but the poor recepition for Wood/Water probably didn't prevent it, either. If this is the case, then I'd like to thank them for having the foresight to break up now. Better to split up when the critics didn't like your record than it is to stay together and retreat into making Nothing Feels Good over and over again.
Calling Albany, the second full-length from lead singer Davey von Bohlan's "side project," (can it really be called a side project now that the main band is dead?) is quite a consolation prize from the sudden death of Promise Ring. Vermont makes beautiful music, and though it's not the same sound as Promise Ring, it's equally as moving, thoughtful, and intelligent. Vermont's lineup also includes Promise Ring's Dan Didier and Pele's Chris Rosenau, which leads me to believe that Promise Ring could have aptly handled this kind of sound. What's most striking, though, about the songs on Calling Albany, is that all of them sound like they could have been great, loud rock numbers had the Promise Ring done them, but instead Davey chose not to let these songs go in that direction. These songs almost makes me wonder what Promise Ring demos sounded like!
Vermont's had a few split releases in the past, with Ida and Centro-matic, and both bands have obviously influenced the band; "Commodores 64" could be a lost Ten Small Paces song, and "Kill an Hour" sounds like it would have been welcome on Distance and Clime. Many of the songs on Calling Albany find humor at the expense of pop culture, i.e., "Ballad of Larry Bird," "Arrest Harrison Ford!" and easily give Clem Snide a run for their money. The best song here, though, is "Calling Albany," which seems to address his medical concerns from a few years ago. With a looped percussion beat and a sad acoustic guitar riff, he's singing about his life, and it's not easy listening. Dealing with death is never easy, especially when it seems he doesn't know if he's going to live or die. "Stop sending me gas and electricity, calling Jesus, call my mother, calling Albany. I am the last man on your wish list, you are the last person I may see." Powerful stuff, indeed.
Goodbye loud emo-rock, hello jazzy acoustic-rock! Calling Albany is proof that life goes on, and being in a popular, seminal band doesn't mean that your style has to be limited. Though I don't really know if Vermont will become his main gig now, I'd like to think that whatever Davey does next will include some of this kind of music, as he really has a way with sad, soft music.