Just a year after releasing their excellent dream pop effort AZAR, Venice Is Sinking is back with a third full-length fit for the masses. Sand & Lines finds the group yet again tweaking their sound, returning to the country-ish flavor of their debut, Sorry About the Flowers, while adding some more somber touches. It's a little less orchestral indie, a little more country.
Part of this shift comes from the production techniques. The band opted to record the album at the Georgia Theatre under minimalist settings: Live, full-band takes without overdubs were recorded through two mics and mixed directly to 1/4" tape. The results are spacious and huge. Sand & Lines demands headphones to fully unveil its ominous, quasi-western gothic powers, which is a roundabout way of saying it sounds amazing. It's a shame the Georgia Theatre was damaged in a fire, since the levels VIS achieve here--grainy yet warm, haunting yet alive--are perfect. Proceeds from Sand & Lines will go towards reconstruction, though, so there's hope yet.
Still, the production would mean nothing without quality songwriting, which frontman Daniel Lawson and his band deliver. "Sidelights" opens the record with juxtaposition between Lawson's lonely singing and the group's relatively peppy playing. "The Grey Line" gets more delicate, while "Bardstown Road" is a rousing anthem. The catchiest tune is "Falls City." Drummer Lucas Jensen knocks out a nice groove building up to a chorus layered with intertwining vocals and strings. It's beautiful for a moment before crashing guitars chase it away. "Falls City" goes through so many moods, and each one is amazing.
Three covers round out the collection, each surprising in its own way. VIS tweaks Waylon Jennings' "The Wurlitzer Prize (I Don't Want to Get Over You)" ever so slightly. It's faithful, but it weirdly recalls the Raveonettes at their most country, thanks to the ghostly vocals from Lawson and Karolyn Troupe. Galaxie 500's "Tugboat" is a little less psychedelic, a little more explosive. Lawson's singing voice is pretty clean, but those guitars and drums can shift into razor-sharp rock territory when they want. The most random pick of the bunch may be Dolly Parton's "Jolene." Parton's plea to the title character not to take her man just because she can (rhymes!) is made all the more desperate by the intense performance. It's random yet beautiful.
Compared to the meticulously arranged AZAR, Sands & Lines subverts everything the band accomplished last time out while still delivering everything fans can expect. This record might take a few spins to embed itself, but it will do so in time. A vein of indie music has been digging into country for a few years now, but Venice Is Sinking does it more organically than most here. This one's better than most of the albums to come out so far this year.