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Liz Durrett, "The Mezzanine"

With lyrics hinting of violence, repression, and longing, Liz Durrett maintains an air of soured innocence, as if grappling with the transgressions she's witnessed and whether or not forgiveness is possible. She mines decidedly different territory with her evocation of a haunted South. Personal tragedies, hiding places, and the unraveling of mysteries infect her second album with a melancholy as insidious as the kudzu she invokes on her track "Creepyaskudzu." Although she plays guitar on all but one of the tracks, her use of the instrument serves more as a backdrop since the emotional weight of the material rests almost solely on her voice.


Warm Electronic Recordings

The subtle yet superb production of Durrett's uncle, Vic Chestnutt, brings the album to life. Vic, who along with his wife Tina accompanies Durrett on a variety of instruments, fills the space with minimal arrangements that support the songs themselves without causing undo distraction, such as the faint panning distortion underneath "Cup on the Counter," or the xylophone offsetting feedback on "No Apology." Since Durrett rarely sings above a whisper, Chestnutt wisely layers and double-tracks her voice for maximum impact.

The first half of the album proceeds at a similar pace until she breaks up the flow with her piano instrumental, "Silent Partner," which also would have been a good opening track since its melody encapsulates many of the dark themes found elsewhere on the album. Her vocal style doesn't alter too much until "Marlene," where she extends notes in a display of acute vulnerability. However, it's not until the final song, "In the Throes," that she finally fills the space with the amplitude of her voice rather than the texture.

The frustrating thing is that she proves that she has a voice capable of variation, but she doesn't explore the possibilities nearly enough. It's also a shame she doesn't take more musical chances like she does when she plays feedback on "No Apology." Yet The Mezzanine is an accomplishment in itself by the way it invokes the geography, both physical and mental, of a landscape that "hides what it chokes/is it not beautiful."

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Review of the Day

Trans Am, "TA"
Man, I am so upset. I usually run out and buy Trans Am albums the day they come out (the only band I do that with!), but their latest album is SO terrible, SO wretched, SO miserable, that I am actually angry. Personally offended, even. That the band would have the audacity to publish this crap colors my experience of all the other Trans Am albums. It's depressing! It appears that the irony that has always lurked in the background of previous albums is the only quality present here. "TA" is entirely reference: "We like OMD, wink wink... overblown MOR rock is funny, wink wink... I'll bet a rap in Spanish would be a ridiculous thing to include on one of our records, yuk yuk". A parody is potentially fine, as long as it offers something deeper than what it initally appears to be. "Future World", for instance, was certainly a Kraftwerk reference, but it's also a great album in its own right. "Red Line" referenced Suicide, but it didn't end there. The Van Halen-like rock-out sections of all the previous albums work because the band REALLY IS rocking out, and the Stewart Copeland-esque drum workouts worked precisely because they used the Police as a starting point on the way to something new. But "TA" is useless. As a joke, it's a thin one. If it's an intentionally unfunny joke, then it fails as that, too. When a band starts writing songs that sound like Loverboy, they are only as good as the context; so when the context is merely a knowing wink, it's pretentious, it's instantly dated ("remember that time when it was funny to sound like Loverboy?"), and the songs still just sound like Loverboy. Sure, there have been entire albums that succeed as parodies of popular genres (the Residents' "Third Reich n' Roll" springs to mind, as does Neil Young's "Trans") and hold up decades after they are published, but this isn't one of them. As a suddenly-former Trans Am fan, I feel ripped off and insulted. They were the one band that I've been sure to catch at every tour, whose albums and concerts I anticipate. This latest album doesn't appear to be "good" on any level. Bye bye, Trans Am... hello Trans Awful. - 

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