Album Review: Disaster Footage at Night by The Lonelyhearts

Disaster Footage at night by the LonelyheartsThe Lonelyhearts
Disaster Footage At Night
Scenester Credentials

Lonelyheart John Lindenbaum lives in Oakland, while Andre Perry lives in Iowa City; so the band is not quite bi-coastal — maybe sesqui- or hemi-coastal?  It doesn’t really matter, what with the Internet turning us all into quivering monads afloat in a dimensionless sea. The songs on “Disaster Footage At Night” might have been constructed via the Internet Cloud, but they sound no less coherent for it.  Each of these songs finds either John or Andre inhabiting different characters and presenting their wordy first person narratives.  Given that Perry came to Iowa for an MFA in nonfiction, story songs should come as no surprise.

But calling them ‘wordy’ isn’t meant as a negative.  Direct and oblique in turns, these songs at least try and get at something complicated and nuanced.  In “Overpass,” a song about a romance with a girl from sketchy circumstances, Lindenbaum sings “I called you baby, you called me a tourist” offhandedly captures uneasiness and uncertainty, and the mournful tone of the song, and the ornamented melody of the chorus have a sort of magnificent miserableness.  “Concrete and Chrome,” sung in the character of a soldier returning home, hits a few narrative notes that are a trifle obvious  — “Where’s my parade? Where’s my welcome home?”  but redeems itself in the end, with the repeated line “I should have stayed” accompanied by a devastating crescendo.  It starts out with organ and synths that recall the portentiousness of Sigur Ros, but it peaks in a wave of abrasive white noise.

The lyrics wouldn’t matter if the music didn’t come correct, and it does.  The percussive strumming of the guitar and the sustained drones of the keyboard coalesce into a single warm sound.  Their songs have enough harmonic variation to avoid being generic, while remaining infectiously accessible.  Lindenbaum’s voice can (and has) been compared to Neil Young, and Perry brings Tom Petty to mind, but the full flowering of the music comes in the swelling codas to the songs, where they sing together in octave unison. Even though it becomes clear after a few listen whose songs are whose, the playing and arrangements are fully collaborative.  With nearly every song on the album being a mid-tempo ballad, they can run together at first, but they reward repeat listening.

Their MySpace page lists Tom Petty first in their list of influences, and you can hear echoes of both the Heartbreakers’ ensemble sound and their band name in the Lonelyhearts.  The lush integration of keyboard sounds owes a lot to Petty’s organist Benmont Tench; even when the organs and synths dominate the mix they rarely demand special attention, existing soley to support the song. The stories told in the lyrics reach for a particular narrator’s voice and may miss the mark. “Black Blue Devil” in particular, which describes the Duke Lacrosse team scandal of a few years back. It takes the point of view of the father of the team’s only black player and feels forced. It puts words in the mouth of a real person, who can presumably speak for himself.  And trying to take race, prejudice, sexism and violence against women, using an event so murky and unresolved, is ambitious beyond all chance of success.  At the same time the musical setting supporting the narrative is almost perfect in capturing the mood the lyrics evoke. Which may be the perfect exemplar of what the Lonely Hears are about — their songwriting is fearless in its ambition, and if they don’t always hit their target perfectly, I’m not sure anyone else could come as close.