Posted on September 30th, 2010 (11:34 am) by Peter Schauf

I underwent a number of reactions to the Tin Star Orphans. Canadian alt-country? Big blueneck hell yeah to that. Then I looked at the track list for the first time--ten tracks, good; an average of six minutes per track, uh-oh. It is alt-country, but really there’s not that much ‘alt’ to it. So basically, we’re looking at a disc full of six-minute pop-rock songs that pass beyond the point of ambition to near suicidal levels. I love that the Tin Star Orphans’ website bills the album as a literary inspired journey through past hardships and hypothetical, future obstacles. And it’s country music? No kiddin’, eh?

Likely, your breath will not be taken away by any shockingly original ideas, but there’s nothing wrong with just doing something right. “Jaw Wired Shut” went a long way to assuaging my apprehensions. The drum line thumps in around two minutes while a second guitar chimes in around three; but the track really hits its stride 30 seconds later when the trumpets enter. Nothing new, sure, but it’s some damn fine craftsmanship. The way the track is broken up really makes the larger structure more manageable. “We are Lions”, on the other hand, wastes no time hitting its anthemia pace. An earlier, stronger bridge and a tighter structure would have made this a fantastic four-minute track, but instead it’s an okay six-minute one. “Year of the Wave” is a pretty good example of what “Lions” should have been, sounding like it came off Delta Spirit’s new album. It’s also the lone track under five minutes with the exception of “Three Cheers for the Coward” at a minute and change. “Fire” is up next as the mandatory ballad. The slow burning vocals flaring over the arpeggio guitar picking almost feels like Frightened Rabbit (minus the sex).

This is right about where they lose me. Only four tracks in--but to be fair, we’re also more than 20 minutes deep. Normally I’d say what this band needs is shorter tracks, but if that were the case this album would be average at best. No, what these guys need is a bolder strategy. There are some pretty strong structural resemblances between the Orphans and The Decemberists, so ideally, Crane Wife would make a fitting rubric. Tin Star Orphans’ sophomore offering reigned in a little bit of the instrumental variety in favor of a more put-together sound. The results are sometimes mundane, but sometimes epic. That sounds a lot like Crane Wife to me. I’ve always loved the bold, self-indulgence of a ten-minute track, though I don’t often enjoy ten minute tracks. “Deadly Medley” is built in much the same way as “Jaw” with a dirge-like deviation connecting the two almost rockabilly bookends of the track. It’s a great song. Tin Star Orphans are definitely capable of more grand arrangements--their own site even refers to a Neutral Milk Hotel quality in the production. I don’t really see it, but I get where they’re coming from. They just didn’t bring it quite hard enough.

It just amazes me that a band capable of those two tracks is also responsible for “Men with Gun”. There’s a definite David Gray quality to Zach Bennett’s vocals that I struggle to endure, but it’s just out of control. It’s not just David Gray, it’s that weird version of hair metal vocals that seems to stick in the throats of mainstream rockers. “Guns” is the only real stinker, but the last two tracks just sort of fade into unmemorable nothing. The Days of Blinding Fear is far from perfect, but I still appreciate this approach to music. The real question is whether they are the lions they claim and keep moving towards the aesthetic their site describes, or whether they’ll give in and become the Kings of Leon of alt country.

Track List:

1. Jaw Wired Shut
2. We Are Lions
3. Year of the Wave
4. Fire
5. Fighter
6. Men With Gun
7. Three Cheers for the Coward
8. Deadly Medley
9. Hand Me Down
10. Someday Tourniquet

Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

65 / 100
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