We Chase the Waves (2010)
The Lawrence Arms' last release, Buttsweat and Tears, was a tease. Yeah, it was good, but it was just a seven-inch. Now the group's members are again pursuing separate interests. Brendan Kelly dropped an acoustic split with Smoke or Fire's Joe McMahon, and is now preparing a solo album. Until that TLA live DVD drops, the only way to get one's fix is through We Chase the Waves, the sophomore effort from Chris McCaughan's side project, Sundowner.
While cellist Jenny Choi does not return this time around, We Chase the Waves is otherwise pretty similar to Sundowner's debut, Four One Five Two. McCaughan still offers light acoustic jams that are just a shade too mellow to work as TLA tunes (with the fiery "Jewel of the Midwest" being the exception here). Larry Arms drummer Neil "Tennessee" Hennessy returns on bass, although to be honest his presence is barely felt on these recordings. McCaughan's approach is awfully spare, though he does occasionally throw in an extra guitar part or backing vox. Otherwise, this is a one-man show that would sound the same live.
This puts We Chase the Waves in an awkward place. The songs are generally good, and their aquatic themes couple with the easygoing pace to make for a pretty chill summer record. But that also means that Waves can get a little repetitive and clunky in spots. "Whales and Sharks" is pretty awesome for its stripped-down sound and story about being married to the sea. But you're still listening to a song about how algae are totally awesome. "As the Crow Flies" is pretty catchy, but its vague story about writing music leaves it seeming a little shallow.
McCaughan's lyrics occasionally falter, and there are several times I suspect he was just trying to fill syllables. But the record is so damn relaxed and charming. "In the Flicker" is such a great, ominous opening track, complete with real, totally unplanned thunder. "Baseball's Sad Lexicon" is the best ode to the Chicago Cubs since the Mountain Goats' "Cubs in Five." "Jewel in the Midwest" rocks.
The album isn't perfect--a few of the songs meander--but it's still a modest success all the same. Until the Larry Arms ride again, Sundowner is a fine alternative.