Monday, October 19, 2009

Langhorne Slim - Be Set Free

If the record's cover art isn't telling, then perhaps its guest list is. When Langhorne Slim first made the switch to Kemado Records last year with his second full-length, the effort came out sounding solid but somewhat lacking in the energy of his live set, a feat that's only been accomplished thus far with his muddy Electric Love Letter EP of 2004. He's stayed loyal to Malachi DeLorenzo (also his drummer) in the recording process from day one, but his newest album, produced as a ridiculously layered piece of pop by Decemberist Chris Funk, is miles from his live show, which – while appealing to the tamer indie set – really hurts him, given what he's capable of.

The point that's impossible to dodge is that Langhorne Slim is at his best when he's on his own. He's a true punk spirit, and can singlehandedly fill a stage with his nasal wail; it certainly wouldn't hurt if this demonstration were set to tape for the space of an LP. The War Eagles, DeLorenzo and upright bass player Paul DeFiglia, actually kept up with him quite well on stage, building upon his energy rather than being left to the roles of backing musicians, qualifying the trio as a great team, though the greater strength remained on stage and not necessarily on record.

Now, on Be Set Free, Slim's unfortunately hurt by all the would-be enhancements that completely bury his energy. Sam Kassirer, who (alongside DeLorenzo) played a heavy role in the recording process of Slim's previous record, is now the band's pianist, adding a painful dream sequence quality to the already-sappy “I Love You, But Goodbye.” “Say Yes” almost comes off as something the Decemberists might have recorded, were it not for the lack of a historical geek-out, and “For a Little While” is a really dull, semi-sultry rock ballad that just doesn't belong. “Yer Wrong” completely snatches – wait for it – “I Can See Clearly Now,” and “Blown Your Mind” relies on a piano melody fit more for Regina Spektor than a less-than-believable Slim.

As for those other guests, Slim's duet with Heartless Bastards frontlady Erika Wennerstrom on “Leaving My Love” does work well, though the production process has upped the cheese factor by giving too much volume to DeLorenzo's drumming – he's fantastic but his part is a bore here – and experimenting with strings in a way that worked for Jon Brion and Fiona Apple but competes with and overpowers Slim. “Land of Dreams” is pleasant enough but a waste of Laura Veirs, and DeFiglia's replacement on bass, Jeff Ratner, is literally impossible to spot anywhere on the record. Really, the best songs here, the title track and “Back to the Wild,” are those that would have fit perfectly on previous Langhorne Slim records; it's unfortunate that this album, which will likely launch him, while much deserved, is less representative of the artist than the producer.


Taste that potential!

Langhorne Slim - Be Set Free
Langhorne Slim - Yer Wrong (yes, but you simply won't understand, otherwise)
Purchase Be Set Free
Or see him on tour RIGHT NOW.

4 comments:

Action-J said...

couldn't agree more with your review. all the elements in there that were probably intended to gussy things up ended up burying the spark and uniqueness they've had on other albums. doesn't shine like he's capable of. just saw them tonight and the new bassist really doesn't hold a candle to the previous one. new guy on piano and banjo, while talented, distracted a bit. your point about slim being best on his own is on point. you're right, they deserve a bigger audience, too bad it happens to be happening on the back of an album that's really doesn't capture what they're capable of.

China said...

It really is the case, isn't it? I've seen him play on his own and he's actually a lot funnier and more charming by himself. And he rocks the hell out with the War Eagles; their chemistry was great. But yeah, that new band just isn't it. I'd like to see if he could pull off an act with just him and Malachi but I don't think that would quite be it, either.

Anonymous said...

Haha,
So true... and i wasn't really aware of the roster of artists on the album. I was saddened by the departure of Paul - found myself going to LS as much to see him. Interestingly in London last week, the band disappeared and left LS to sit at the edge of the stage and rattle through 'Lord' with a member of the audience... something that for me dragged a mediocre show into the realms of sublime.

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