October 07, 2003

Magnolia Summer "Levers and Pulleys"

Magnolia Summer. Let's reflect on that for a moment. Think about it quietly for a second or two. It has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? It has a soft, warm, blooming feel to it--invoking the scent of honeysuckle and fresh-cut grass; the scent of the woods after a late afternoon thunderstorm. Very rustic, very quaint, very picturesque, to say the least. For me, I'm reminded of all the good things about East Texas. It gives me great pleasure, then, to say that Levers and Pulleys, the debut album by St Louis' Magnolia Summer, easily lives up to the pleasant preconcieved notions you could have when you hear the band name.

Though Levers and Pulleys is a pretty traditional sounding alt.country record, there's something a little bit more to Magnolia Summer. The spaced-out atmospherics of Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot certainly seems to have sent shockwaves through the music world. Even though such influence might not be entirely evident on Levers and Pulleys, listening to the haunting "Pushing The Needle Too Hard" and "Canary," it's hard not to think that they didn't hear that album at least once while recording. Many of the songs--such as the lovely "Breaki In" or "Baton Rouge" stick to the traditional singer/songwriter style, but on such as "Standing Still" and "Maybe Someday," you realize that there's a dark, almost electronica-based heartbeat underneath the surface of Magnolia Summer's seemingly simple roots-rock.

Don't worry, though; Magnolia Summer's leader, Chris Grabau, is no mere Wilco copycat, and it's probably a bit lazy of me to even mention Jeff Tweedy, too. If anything, Grabau owes as much to Morrissey as he does to Ryan Adams or Tweedy. Grabau has a passion in his heart, and when he starts to sing his words to music, he takes on a midwestern countryfied style that does, in its own way, remind greatly of the Mozzer. It's a mixture of passion and pain and heartbreak and hope and bitterness that seems quite British. If he tried to experiment any harder, he could be mistook for any number of sadsack Britpop singers.

See, that's another great thing about Levers and Pulleys--it's an album that teeters on the edge of experimentation. True, you'll not mistake it for Radiohead, but you'll be hard-pressed to consider Magnolia Summer's country roots, too. While all of the songs are pretty--if not a little bit similar in places--it's this overwhelming feeling that the calming sounds of Levers and Pulleys are merely the calm before the storm. Grabau and company (featuring bandmates from Waterloo, as well as friends from other established bands as Nadine and Hazeldine) could really make an interesting blend of electronica-tempered country-folk that could send Neil Halstead running back to the barn with bong in hand. For a debut, Levers and Pulleys is a nice little start; over time, I'm expecting greatness.

--Joseph Kyle

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