Album Review: The Lonelyhearts/Caleb Engstrom – Winter Club Split

The Lonelyhearts/Caleb Engstrom
Winter Club Split
Mission Creek Records

A split single is usually a 7” record, but this is a CD whose music wouldn’t fit on a 7” and a CD…wait for it…only has one side. But Mission Creek Records is thinking conceptually. A split as a way for two bands/artists to–as they say on an English final–contrast and compare, and the commonality between Engstrom’s solo lonesomeness and the Lonelyheart’s duo lonesomeness is clear.

The Lonelyhearts are Andre Perry + John Lindenbaum of Iowa City and Fort Collins, CO, respectively. The songs on Winter Club Split are the centerpiece of their current live show, and they made the choice to keep these recordings close to the live arrangements. There’s no shortage of studio sweetening going on–dramatic slap-back echo on vocals, wide-screen doubled guitars–but they leave out drums, which works better than you might think. “Post-Soviet” is an imagined tour of a post-collapse former empire, but you have to wonder which declining global empire it’s really about. Lindenbaum’s lead vocal on “A Quick Nine Holes Before Lunch” is the very definition of plaintive.

KRUI’s blog name-checks Arcade Fire to describe these Lonelyhearts songs, but I’d reach farther back to the Kinks and David Bowie, both for their song-craft and flair for dramatic narrative lyrics. And on “A Quick Nine Holes” Lindenbaum ends the song singing “A Working Class poseur is something to be,” a direct reference to John Lennon’ “Working Class Hero.”

Caleb Engstrom’s contributions–songs that are dated rather than titled–sound like solo bedroom productions, but they’re carefully crafted little blasts of weirdness, incorporating found sounds, guitars, gratuitously distorted vocals, and perfect little song fragments. It’s like he’s mashed up Eno’s Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) with Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma and crammed it into 4 tracks adding up to less than 8 minutes. To misquote another ‘60s dinosaur, what a short, strange trip its been.