I was searching a while for a context in which to write a piece for this album and a thunderstorm some nights ago provided just that. There was no rain, just distant lightning, thunder and a vicious hot wind that succeeded in knocking out all my power. There was nowhere to go, it was dark and the heat festered into something almost tangible. Lucero's The Attic Tapes is the musical manifestation of such an atmosphere. From the first note it releases a dark warmth and intimacy rarely found in today's modern musical landscape.
Part of said intimacy has to do with the recording method, which was putting the band to 8-track analog in the attic of the guitarist's father's home. The decidedly grainy recording lends itself remarkably well to the material. All the instrumentation sounds distinct enough while maintaining a rough edge to cradle Ben Nichols' already coarse rasp, which is a nice change from the more polished sound of the band's last record. Another prominent feature of this album is the playing of violinist, Reiko. This is especially evident on "Hello Sadness" where, coupled with some deep bass, it creates a truly haunting aural experience, especially during the final line of "I'll surrender tomorrow if I live through the night."
The songwriting itself is arguably not as strong as later releases but it is consistently competent and never seems forced. Certain moments even display flairs of greatness that the band would later achieve, such as "Summer Song," which is shrouded in a lazy haze much like the season it references. It contains lines like "boys in their summer bands sweat as they give it their all / the bands might be good but probably won't last through the fall" that fully encompass the brooding, thoughtful nature of the record as a whole.
This is a reissue, so the band does appear to put a good amount of effort into making it a worthwhile release. Brian Venable, the guitarist, gives detailed liner notes on the recording of the album, some band history and his perspective on why the album should be reissued. This last point is important when today a couple of months can pass and a band will reissue an album pointlessly. A nice inclusion is also a list of the different musicians on each of the individual recordings, but the band does fail to include lyrics, which is a strike against the album (you shouldn't really have trouble understanding them though). Other extra recordings are included as well: a fairly useless set of demos, and an out of print 7". The 7" material is fantastic having "My Best Girl," a love song to a guitar, which would later appear on their self-titled record, and a cover of Jawbreaker's "Kiss the Bottle." Out of all the covers of this song this reviewer has heard (Kris Roe, Sparta, Foo Fighters) this is far and away the most interesting. The already somber song is perfect for this genre of country folk, in particular with Ben's style of singing and the use of a mandolin. The cover art is creatively altered using a picture of the original screen used for the original pressing to bring everything full circle.
If you already own the original this reissue might not be worth it to track down, unless you are a rabid Jawbreaker fan and don't already own the 7". If you prefer Lucero's forays into more upbeat southern rock style music over their more mellow output, this might not be for you either. However, if you don't own the original and feel like listening to some laidback country-fried folk, this could be the album for you. So do yourself a favour and curl up with some Jack, sit back and let it all soak in.
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