By: Dennis Cook
Low, rumbling horns that ease into bright colors welcome us to this powerfully charming, intricately knotted bramble. San Jose, California's The Mumlers' debut, Thickets & Stitches (released February 12 by Galaxia Records), has the hard-to-pin-down but irrepressible atmosphere of bands like Lambchop or Camper Van Beethoven. Both addictively listenable and obviously bent, The Mumlers sashay to their own drum, but take a moment to listen and you'll likely grab a fife and join them.
I guess you'd call this pop but there's equally strong whiffs of cabaret music, smart jazz, garage rock and ambient digressions. "Shake That Medication" swings like some long lost '60s Motown single dragged into the self-help present, the loving work of kids chasing pure soul with whatever tools are at hand. There's a delightful kitchen sink aesthetic to the instrumentation, a pots & pans hoedown kept in check by an inspired reel caller. Nothing gets in the way. In fact, it's only on repeated listens that you'll pick up the breath & body in the arrangements.
The songs are by bandleader Will Sprott, who croons with the naturally ancient burr of Randy Newman and Leon Redbone, though with more swivel in his strides. It's a fantastic, unique voice and it doesn't hurt that he's crooning subtle stanzas that sneak up on your subconscious with real force. For example, this bit from "Shake That Medication":
"The band's not always playing when you're bent out of shape/ So we're putting this song down on the audio tape/ When you're real low down/ When you're by yourself/ Throw this record on the platter and grab some pills from the shelf/ Shake your medication."
Or these lines from "Whale Song":
"I'll come in sopping wet/ And she'll rub me like a pet/ Until I am cozy and warm/ But I can never stay for forever, angel/ And I don't say this to try and make you cry/ But there's some things you just can't change, girl/ And a whale on a beach must die."
"Untie My Knots" shuffles like a '30 Berlin waltz loosed through time, pulsing with woozy accordion, staccato snare and trombone sighs while Sprott ruminates on his troubles. Closer "So Long" is a lovely gloss on mortality, where the band sways with dovetailing unity, the words and music complimenting each other with each step. There's a cheek-to-cheek intimacy to Thickets & Stitches, possibly due to the expert mixing of Thom Monahan (Devendra Banhart, Vetiver, Gary Louris), who seems to enliven everything he touches.
Thickets & Stitches isn't a quick fix but it's also not too slow. It's the rare album that reveals itself to you like a dancer pulling away veil after veil, a seduction that puts this one on the short list for possible Best of 2008 status.
JamBase | Northern California
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