Billy is not a music critic (Hell, he can't even hear the Springsteen influences in a Gaslight Anthem album), nor is he exceptionally gifted at typing in the third person. But he does love music, and BOTG has a dozen or so bands and artists sending free music their way every month. No sane music-lover likes turning away free music! So on occasional Sunday, he's going to offer his thoughts and recommendations on the better stuff getting sent to us. This isn't American Idol, so he's not gonna go all Simon on any of the stuff that sucks. (And let's be honest -- we've received some bona fide stinkers that you'll never hear.)
Peasant - On the Ground
We're Good - Peasant (mp3)
Not Your Savior - Peasant (mp3)
Peasant is the one-man band nom de plume for Damien DeRose, and his debut album On the Ground is worth repeated spinning on the ol' iPod's hard disk.
When I describe his music as "pretty," that word comes with particular connotations for me. First, I think of the closing quote from one of my all-time favorite classics, The Sun Also Rises, where Hemingway's protagonist, Robert Cohn, is sitting in the back of the car with non-lethal femme fatale Brett Ashley. After putting him through emotional hell the entire book, she says, "Oh Jake, we could have had such a damned good time together." His response: "Isn't it pretty to think so?"
"Pretty" isn't quite "beautiful." For me, there's a serenity and depth in "beautiful" that never can quite make its way into the heart of "pretty." And "pretty" has this hurt soul. It's the kind of word you use when you can't risk letting her know you think she's beautiful. You look pretty in a dress. You look pretty in that lipstick. Pretty is fleeting; beautiful has more legs.
When I hear On the Ground, I feel a lot of that same bitterness and hurt that bleeds out of Cohn's concluding words. The lyrical misery comes floating along an airy indie pop acoustic cloud of guitars and simple arrangements, and DeRose proves himself a very capable sonic architect. He doesn't pack too much junk in the trunk, musically. Just simple and... pretty.
I'm most grateful that he knows to keep his songs fairly brief. His most epic song hits 3:40, but the majority keep a healthy distance under three minutes. I think if they were longer, it would start feeling too much like he was wallowing in self-pity. As it is, the 13 songs on this album clock in at just under 40 minutes, giving you plenty of melancholy fodder without invading your space for so long that you feel compelled to throw yourself off the nearest multi-story building.
Peasant's Myspace site
Link to Amazon.com's mp3 site for On the Ground
Loose Mind - The Steps (mp3)
Outlaw - The Steps (mp3)
A dash of Ash and a full cup of the Hives. A hint of Franz Ferdinand and a sprinkling of Cheap Trick. The Steps have cursed themselves with a very Google-unfriendly name, but they might be able to overcome that hurdle with a debut album that contains plenty of bombast. The most recent purchase I made that reminds me of The Steps is a band by The Blakes, a Seattle-based band that tromps through the same flowerbed and does an equally impressive job of it.
Lumping a band in with a lot of other bands always risks being an insult, I guess, 'cuz it risks indicating there's nothing particularly unique or original about the sonic powers The Steps take to the stage. Well, I simultaneously believe The Steps are entirely and proudly derivative but also made a damn fine album. If they wanted to make an original, they probably fell short; but if they wanted to make a fun, head-boppin', 40-minute rocking rollick, they passed with flying colors.
Check 'em out here...