Lucky Leaves is a noisey, meandering “grow-fi” album (to use the band's own words) that brims with energetic jangle and playful imagery. Yet, at the center of it all is a meditative self-deprecation.
The record begins and ends on a little joke: “Theme from Krill,” and “Theme From Krill (Reprise)” respectively, and listening to these bookends you can just see the three bandsmen now, pouring out of a little van in giant plush animal costumes and into the streets of their native Boston, pumping fists and whispering into elementary school classrooms in session, “krill, krill, krill… forever.” But the antics aren’t strictly comedy, they’re a personal ritual, a recitation of realities needed just to sleep at night and leave the bed in the morning.
The first thing you’ll notice is bassist and vocalist Jonah Furman’s voice, and the first thing you’ll think is Frank Black, and the second will probably be Isaac Brock. Good for you, now onward: there is something singularly sincere about a nasally vocalist who really knows his craft. Bob Dylan, Ezra Furman, Gordon Gano of Violent Femmes - such a rich tradition of emoting with your sinuses, and Jonah bears the torch admirably. He is a maestro of the grotesque and pubescent growl, of slide-whistle falsettos and the wobble-vibrato that breaks like oily waves.
What really sets him apart from the aforementioned songbirds, though, is his unpredictable rhythm; just listen to “Never a Joke,” listen to him send that line stuttering out like an ungainly baby bird: “I-know-it’s-never-a-joke / to-make / some-one / feel ze-ro,” punctuated by excellent downtempo jams from drummer Luke Pyenson and guitarist Aaron Ratoff. Listen again, on “Oppressor” as Furman narrates a succinct day-in-the-life: “Everytime I come home / I get into / Tiny funks / Hard to get out of…” with that last line whispered from behind a hand, conspiratorially. It’s repeated once lazily, once mournfully, once with resignation, and then a charmingly uncentered jam to elaborate.
Its a dynamic dialogue of an album among the trio about the difficulties of getting out of bed, getting over exes, approaching strangers, and magically in their telling, these slices of everybody’s everyday attains a pained high drama, and the centerpiece of it all has to be the single “Purity of Heart,” named after Christian existentialist thinker Soren Kierkegaard’s work entitled Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing: Spiritual Preparation for the Office of Confession. While Furman’s language isn’t so philo-sophi-high-falutin', it retains the spiritual impact of its namesake; hearing it for the first time sent a slow bath of warm waters rising up my spine.
The hook is delivered immaculately by Furman and repeated until it achieves mantric effect, and he ends it with a simple resolution that feels so ironclad in its quietness: “Purity of heart / Is to will one thing. / Today I will / Take a walk,” and the rest of the lyrics are a discussion of existential potential between him, a twig, and a blade of grass. The unexpected solemnity comes in large part from Pyenson’s under-rumbling percussion that positions the melody deep in your breast like a private prayer.
It’s a recurring feeling throughout the album, and testifies to Furman’s excellent deliveries and use of repetition. The unpresuming single ends in broiling cymbal clashings, mounting and tumbling riffs that resemble all the tribulations that strike and slide off a man in the grips of true personal resolution.
There isn’t a single element on autopilot in Lucky Leaves. Ratoff’s now burstingly succinct, later rambling riffs finish Furman’s sentences, and Pyenson keeps the tempo in a cement-mixer so the hooks never lose freshness. “Theme from Krill (Reprise)” caps the record off as the sleepy part two to the opener, an evening retirement that gives the whole album the feel of a true Odyssey through the mental mumblings of ill-adjustment.
1. Theme From Krill - 7/10
2. Never A Joke - 8/10 (link)
3. Sick Dogs (For Ian) - 7/10
4. Purity of Heart - 10/10 (link)
5. This Morning - 6/10
6. My Boy - 5/10
7. Oppressor - 9/10 (link)
8. Street Level - 6.5/10
9. Tetherball - 7.5/10
10. Infinite Power - 7/10
11. Theme From Krill (Reprise) - 7.5/10
Overall Album Rating - 8/10