Tuesday, August 13, 2019

A brief review - Those Pretty Wrongs - Zed for Zulu (2019, Burger) & Rob Laufer - The Floating World (2019)

The title of Those Pretty Wrong's second LP, Zed for Zulu, is a nod to something known as the NATO phonetic alphabet (which in 2002 Wilco finagled the same cultural reference to their Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album, but I digress).  The music enshrined within the record is decidedly less esoteric however.  The Memphis by way of L.A. duo TPW was initiated in 2012 when ex-Big Star drummer/Ardent Studios figurehead Jody Stephens and ex-Freewheelers frontman Luther Russell worked on the Big Star documentary, Nothing Can Hurt Me.  The collaboration on the movie inadvertently parlayed into a music outlet of their own, Those Pretty Wrongs, and an album of the same name followed in 2016.  Despite their setup as a duo, TPW subscribe to an insular aesthetic, one which often angles in the vicinity of forlorn, loner folk more than angsty rock.

Abundant throughout this album, Stephens and Russell can't help but echo Big Star's quieter traipses (think #1 Record's "Watch the Sunrise,"on Zed's "Tonight, Tonight, Tonight).  In fact, "Tonight..." even evokes shades of Chris Bell's "You And Your Sister," but generally speaking, the Wrongs opt for a discernibly genteel and straightforward tact, more in tandem with say, early CSN&Y and even Nick Drake than Chilton and Bell's idiosyncratic calling cards. In fact, the going on Zed has a tendency to veer a little too plaintive, flirting with songwriting so linear that it's hard not to predict the latter half of certain couplets.  If anything else, Stephens and Russell compensate with alternating tempos and moods imbuing somber tones to the doleful "Hurricane of Love," and "Life Below Zero," while applying comparatively lighthearted strokes to buoyant "Undetow," and even manage to flex some power pop musculature on "You and Me."  Zed for Zulu's benign tenor lends itself to a breezy, afternoon sway in the hammock, providing the pillow to comfort our collective aching heads in the Trump-era.  You can pre-order it straight from Burger Records or Amazon.

People are fickle about singer-songwriters, especially ones they're wholly unfamiliar with.  This is precisely why so many of them get lost in the shuffle.  Hopefully that isn't the case with Rob Laufer, who actually isn't a newcomer, rather he's taken an extended coffee break (since 2010's Excruciating Bliss to be exact).  His belated latest, The Floating World is his fifth album, and whether virgin ears mistake it as a debut or otherwise, it makes for an often stunning introduction.

Bearing a vocal aplomb that's passable at times to Fountains of Wayne's Chris Collingwood, Laufer's music isn't the stuff of topical, white-collar power pop.  More to the point, he's a sophisticated songsmith with musical chops and an arranging acumen that's anything but everyday.  You won't find much in the way of extremes wafting through this Floating World, though there are nuances aplenty.  "Bolt of Blue" and "Space and Time" are a pair of deftly crafted, up-tempo numbers, bustling with brisk rhythms and substantive prose that split the difference between groove and infectiously melodic prowess.  The denser "As Long As You Belong" richly channels George Harrison by way of Laufer's equally proficient contemporaries Rhett Miller and Jason Falkner, while the pedal steel accented "Highway Machine" is contemplatively bittersweet.  And if it's a consoling comedown you're craving the piano-ballad title track is the type of catharsis this beleaguered world should all get on board for.  The Floating World drops on August 23rd, and will be available from Bandcamp, iTunes, and Amazon.


George Leroy Tirebiter said...

Small correction re: Laufer's 4th lp - it's "Excruciating Bliss".

His "Reactionary Girl" will always be a top-50 tune for me, and am very much enjoying the new one. Cheers!

spavid said...

I stand corrected. Thanks for catching that George!