Mar 272010

Rescue Dogs & Ravens

By Nick Kidd

With Killer Meteor’s debut LP, the first thing that jumps out is the sleek packaging and gorgeous photography of Michael Donner. The front and back covers feature a boy of roughly 5 years donning an Incredible Hulk costume. On the front, he’s glancing off to the side of the frame looking unsure; on the back, the grimacing Hulk looks outward, his stuffed arm, chest, and abdominal muscles inhumanly flexed on the undersized boy’s frame. The outfit is made complete by its loose but tattered pants, a casualty of the transformation from man to Hulk, from boy to superhuman. The scene, photographed amidst Halloween décor, is awash in sepia.

The warm, dusty songs contained on Rescue Dogs & Ravens shed light on the nostalgia suggested by its exterior. Its songs are about lost love and the anxieties of stagnation, about owning up to weaknesses and shortcomings, about relishing what’s fleeting and what’s long gone. Significantly, the album doesn’t savor its sorrows. Instead, it summons hope, turning the testimonials of singer/songwriter Eric Smith’s visions into a grand therapeutic exorcism. The album jumps from mood to mood, from Chuck Berry-inspired stompers (“Guns in the Middle”); a southern-rock spin on Interpol-ish pop rock (“The Snakes Can Ride”); a paradoxically lush, stripped-down appeal (“Fog Rolling In”); and a sublime lullaby (“Beauty Sleep”). In spite of its breadth of influences, you can’t help but feel like the album accurately captures Smith’s emotions, that the album came to life just as he’d imagined.

Though not marked as such on the CD’s package, Rescue Dogs & Ravens fits nicely into a “Side A” and “Side B” dichotomy. Its Side A plays like a chameleon-like venture through generally upbeat songs, a sextet of hybridized country and rock n’ roll that set a broad pallet of expectations. Yet the catchiness of these earlier moments play second fiddle to the stunning emotional turns taken on Side B.

It’s here that we find the thick haze of gothic Americana (think Bonnie “Prince” Billy) and the folkier side of Killer Meteor emerges. Casting aside the barroom-friendly fare of Side A, Smith leads us through the gripping malaise of “Fog Rolling In” and the weightless berceuse of “Beauty Sleep.” It’s here the proverbial Hulk mask is removed and we’re presented with a more vulnerable side of Killer Meteor. And these moments are, by my account, the album’s best.

If I had to pick a single for the album, I’d choose “Old Ghosts,” an It Still Moves-era My Morning Jacket type rock song oozing with verve. Its first minute is a steady build of rapid-fire hi-hats, backwards effects, fuzzy lead guitar lines and a perfectly mixed acoustic guitar. By the time Smith’s vocals come in the song has amassed a palpable tension that sustains throughout its remaining verse/chorus form until a wonderful, acoustic-heavy bridge wrestles everything back down to earth…and then it peaks again. It’s the closest thing to an anthem found on this collection, a climax track found, appropriately, just ahead of the serene “Fog Rolling In”/”Beauty Sleep” finale.

The way Rescue Dogs & Ravens veers nimbly between emotional highs and lows brings early Walkmen records to mind. That is to say, it’s impossible to say which style best suits Killer Meteor. They have their own style and sound, and they come off comfortable in their skin, like a pack of friends well aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The dynamic fluidity of their music makes it impossible to paint into a corner. And it’s this very fluidity that makes Rescue Dogs & Ravens an album worth returning to over and over again.

Killer Meteor’s album release show will be at The Green Lantern on Friday, March 26th. Englishman is opening.

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