Editor's Note: For the last nine years, Splendid's reviews have been edited pretty aggressively -- for grammar, punctuation, spelling, usage, accuracy, coherence and thoroughness of argument, and even adherence to "house" style. There are two reasons for this. First of all, I've always believed that for online magazines to succeed, they must offer the highest quality content possible. Second, how can you trust a publication to recommend music if its writers can't tell the difference between there, their and they're? That said, editing is extremely time consuming, and on many occasions over the last nine years, I've wondered what would happen if I took a week off and let the reviews go through completely untouched. Long story short: this week, from December 5th through December 10th, is that week, and the review you're about to read is untouched by editorial hands. Will this new (and very temporary) hands-off policy make a difference? Will you even notice? We'll see...
Paleo is oneathem one-man-band projects, recorded in seclusion and guilty of a perhaps indecent amount of navel-gazing. But if its pedigree would appear to place it on unsure aesthetic footing, it more than overcomes those origins, conveying Dave Strackany's musical and lyrical observations with a combination of universal appeal and a deeply personal surfeit of emotional expression. Strackany dropped everything in his life (job, city of residence, etc.) to devote himself to recording Misery, Missouri, and the result demands that you, in turn, drop what you're doing and pay attention.
"Houdini", the opener, is a pretty, brittle, tender little acoustic musing, but it's the second track ("Ophelia (asleep in the flower pot)" that really introduces Strackany's voice and signature instrumental tones. "Float Ophelia/Drunk on Dimetapp and snoring in the doorway/Make believe with me/That I am brittle like the beehive/That you want me/Like I want you." These lines are accompanied by acoustic guitar, cymbal, organ tones, and brushed drums; after the chorus, a group of background Strackanys "ooo-ooo-ooo-ooo" up the place. All of these elements fit together seamlessly, but at the same time sound as if any one of them could knock the entire edifice into shards and tatters with one false step.
The brushed drums are one of Strackany's most noticable, and most potent instrumental weapons. They soften rockier tracks, like "Beautiful Lady, Beautiful Girl" (songs like this also gain some character from the fact that there's nary a kickdrum to be found on the disc), and they add some forward motion to gentler tracks, like "What Is Love" and "Sky Pilot".
Now that you're hopefully interested in Strackany and his work, it's appropriate to not that his voice might be slightly off-putting. At points, it's breaky and barely there; at points, he pronounces words with a slightly Dave Matthews style. But unless you're truly allergic to either of these vocal tics, they shouldn't be deal-breakers.
Misery closes with a one-two-three-four punch that can leave you breathless. "Occam's Razor" rides on a four-four beat on the verse to a vaguely menacing bass riff that introduces the chorus. And then, before it ends, the beat picks up; the song becomes a dervish. You can almost see the singer destroying everything in his room. "Mournful, Black, Uneasy Bird" works similarly, building from a quiet opening to wash up in a seething spray of organ, acoustic bass, guitar, and drums that are having the living shit brushed out of them. "Two By Half" is a waltz that rises into fits of ecstasy, and "19 Ninety-two" is a rocker that never slows down until it slams into the end of the album.
You'll listen to this one three or four times in a row the first time you get it into your stereo. Pick up a copy.