The first time you listen to The Desperate Vibe of Emotional Devestation (sic), you might be left wondering if you're holding a compilation. Take the opening three tracks: Background "Oooohs" and handclaps buoy a classic-rock guitar lick on "Moonlight Drive" (not the Doors' song, thankfully); "New York White Face" throws down a churning wall of sound; "Life ain't so simple, baby," warns "Deathwish Safety Check" over a chiming melody. The rest of this nine song album, the third from Florida bedroom-recorder R. Sell, continues in a similarly eclectic vein. Sell strongly advocates the DIY approach to recording and releasing (he does his own in the spare bedroom of one Jorge Bejel, who also drums on the album), but the results achieved on even these first three songs are greater than many "professional" bands ever produce.
After such a masterful beginning, the sequencing of the fourth and fifth tracks, "Emotional Cripple" and "Two Story House", appears initially to be a fatal flaw. The former is a stately, seven-minute march through the psyche of one unhappy individual ("I hear voices, grinding teeth/Ripping away at my broken heart"), augmented with mournful keyboards and a steady drumbeat. "Two Story House" follows with another stately seven-minute march beside a tormented character. With a slightly slower beat and sparer instrumentation, "Two Story House" could easily drag the album down a hole from which it couldn't recover. But Sell is playing a kind of modern blues, and the second time through the songs don't seem so slow after all, but timeless and simple in a way that reveals them as variations on the mournful beat humans have been playing for centuries. (CD players also have fast forward buttons, for those times when timeless simplicity just doesn't cut it.)
"Tin Cup Chip" provides an immediate boost of folk-rock, followed by songs both beautiful ("Into the Black") and harrowing ("Family Damage"). "For What It's Worth" (not the Buffalo Springfield song, unfortunately) offers the sad chorus "Turn my back on you/Before you turn it on me", in Sell's clipped, slightly Southern accent. The echo chamber in the closing track, "New Home", might be a little cheesy, but the underlying melody is just as lovely as anything else here. With production values better than a spare bedroom but worse than a real studio -- call it medium-fi -- The Desperate Vibe of Emotional Devestation (sic) is well worth experiencing. (Pity about the album title, though. -- Ed.)