September 17, 2004

A-Set "Adeline Moon"

Chicago resident Albert Menduno used to play in Duster, one of the late 1990s’ most criminally overlooked “slow-core” bands. Since then, he’s stepped out of the confines of the band format and transformed himself into a singer/songwriter under the name A-Set. Although the five musicians that comprise Menduno’s touring band are listed in the liner notes of Adeline Moon, Menduno wrote all of the album’s songs and handled the majority of the instrumentation. The arrangements of his songs are reasonably fleshed out, but they lack the leakage and instrumental chemistry that comes from a band playing together in a room. This isn’t necessarily a drawback. If anything, the dry production and general avoidance of gratuitous embellishments suits Menduno’s songs well. A-Set’s music is a far cry from the lush, gauzy atmospheres of Duster. Menduno’s current sound is more akin to that of the (also criminally overlooked) Multiple Cat; both bands play sterile roots-rock with a faint glam twist. However, mellowness and melancholy are just as much of a priority in A-Set as they were in his former band.

The lyrics of Adeline Moon revolve around typical singer/songwriter fare: broken relationships, mental anguish, wanderlust and nostalgia. The album’s first proper song, “In Too Deep,” chronicles a man who “had never seen the ocean,“ and is bored with city life. The next song finds Menduno watching a “Tennessee Sunset” while ruminating over a breakup he can’t get over. His dilemma is summed up in one perfect couplet: “Will you ever take me back?/Will you ever let me go?” “Alone He Stood“ is about a couple that wants to separate but is too caught up in codependency to actually do it. “Nine One One” doesn’t address the WTC attacks; the emergency Menduno sings about in this song resides totally in his mind. “This train of bad thoughts must come to an end,” he vows during the song’s climax. Menduno doesn’t spend the entire album heartbroken, though. On “Just Say the Word,” he flirts with a woman who’s playing hard to get. “Two of Hearts” is a bluesy organ-driven love song that Al Green could work wonders with. Last but not least, there’s “Where Your Home Is,” which finds Menduno unable to choose between TWO women who pine for his affection! Do you think Lou Barlow’s ever been in that position?

Menduno isn’t writing about anything new. He isn’t even shining new light on old subjects. What, then, separates Adeline Moon from thousands of other albums released this year by garden-variety lovelorn singer/songwriters? It’s Menduno’s voice, which is superseded only by Joanna Newsom’s as the most eccentric I’ve heard so far this year. He sings in a stuffy-nosed countrified drawl that sounds affected enough to be fake, but probably isn’t, considering how staid the music behind him is, even at its most rocking. His voice isn‘t bad (the flat singing on “Where Your Home Is” being the sole exception), but the timbre of his voice will turn off listeners allergic to adenoids. While far from abrasive, Menduno’s singing is edgy enough to keep the music from being mundane (even when it tries its hardest to be).

Of course, Adeline Moon isn’t perfect. The field recordings and instrumentals could have been shaved off, as they add nothing to the album’s overall flow. “Run With Me” suffers from too many vocal harmonies and guitar overdubs, which is strange considering the austerity of the rest of the record. Last but not least, little on this record (aside from Menduno’s singing) reaches out of the speakers and grabs the listener by the throat with its brilliance. Adeline Moon is an above-average record that will take a while to grow on most listeners, which means that it’ll most likely slip through the cracks of indie-rock history (much like Duster‘s albums did). It shouldn’t, though.

--Sean Padilla

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