January 30, 2006

Town & Country "Up Above"

And now, for something completely different…a good record by Town & Country! Never thought the day would come when that would happen. Okay, okay, it’s time to be a little bit fair to this Chicago band, but to this writer, the band epitomized everything that was boring and unexciting about Chicago post-rock/jazz scene. Their records were, in a word, B.O.R.I.N.G. Just because you have the technical acumen doesn’t mean your music is going to be interesting. Town & Country, to me, was the band that was really good at what they did, but what they did was really, really dull and uninteresting.

Up Above, the band’s first record in three years, is a totally different story. Instead of
boring, technical instrumentals that are clinical and cold, the band has decided to experiment with more interesting rhythms and instrumentations, with a special focus on Eastern music. A sitar here, a mouth organ there, a gamelan thrown in for good measure—these things add up, baby! At times, it seems as if this band’s decided they want to be Vibracathedral Orchestra or Pelt, which is not a bad thing. (Of course, they’re not, but let’s be forgiving, shall we?)

One thing that makes Up Above interesting is the band’s decision to temper this newfound experimental nature with a bit of restraint. Gone are Town & Country’s boring Tortoise-isms; no longer are they making mind-numbingly dull post-rock-math-jazz-whatever passages. This is a good thing, as it keeps the record from becoming too clichéd in its approach; how many bands have ruined their music by not editing down their long-ass songs? Thus, at times the songs feel a bit too brief; when the band hits a groove in songs “Bee Call” and “Fields and Parks of Easy Access,” the song ends. But it’s hard not to deny that when the band gets inside the instruments on “King of Portugal” and “Sun Trolley,” the results are simply delightful. Even more interesting is how light and natural their newfound sensibility feels; the instrumentation doesn’t seem gimmicky, nor does the record feel like a “Look at me! I’ve got a gamelan!” type of record.

You’ve got to give these folks credit for being more than willing to shake up their foundation by taking a different direction with their muse. Up Above is a great record, a simple record, an enjoyable record, a non-boring record. Never thought “exciting” and “Town & Country” would ever belong in the same sentence. Thank goodness for being wrong!

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.thrilljockey.com/artists/?id=10049
Label Website: http://www.thrilljockey.com

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