The main guy in this band, Ryan Walsh, wrote two of my favorite songs from back in the MP3.com era: “Strictly Lousy” and “I’m So In Love It Hurts To Walk” by the Stairs. I’m pretty sure I was turned on to them by this piece in Neumu, and then sought out any freely available MP3s, which MP3.com hosted back then. That’s how we rolled in 2003.
Anyway, the Stairs broke up in 2005, and Walsh started Hallelujah The Hills who have a new album coming out on Misra Records on September 22. “Blank Passports” doesn’t sound anything like “Strictly Lousy” or “It Hurts To Walk,” but what it lacks in no-fi charm it makes up for in aggressive indie rock mooginess.
Centro-Matic‘s only flaw may lie in their prolific output. It’s hard to focus on one achievement because the moment you do, they’re off releasing another album of equal achievement. And while their output is consistently better than other prolific artists (Ryan Adams immediately comes to mind), there is this nagging feeling that the band has sacrificed a masterpiece or two at the hands of simply divulging too much too soon.
If this minor complaint—the desire to have everyone recognize how amazingly good this woefully underappreciated band is—wasn’t enough, leader Will Johnson started a second band a few years ago under the name South San Gabriel. Essentially using the same supporters as Centro-Matic, South San Gabriel provides these Texans with an outlet for their atmospheric side.
On Thieves, Jonathan Meiburg and Will Shelf continue their collaboration in Shearwater with just enough songs to keep their core following satisfied with their charming little Okkervil River side project. The five track ep stays true to the tone they’ve set with previous efforts. Echoey vocals accompany dreamy arrangements with plucky strumming guitars played at a leisurely pace, sporadically accompanied with banjos, organs, and dulcimers.
The songs presented here are so much in the spirit of the previous Shearwater albums Everybody Makes Mistakes and Winged Life, that they sound as if could have been recorded during those sessions and left as outtakes.
Overall it’s a decent ep, but unfortunately it doesn’t have much to set it apart from other releases. This album will appeal to completists of both Okkervil River and Shearwater to be sure. Though, if you’re looking at a starting point with Shearwater, I’d recommend you look into Everybody Makes Mistakes and go from there.