Album: West Texas
Comments: 10 years ago, Jim Ward was rocking out in At The Drive-In, happily fulfilling his title as “that other guitar player, you know, the one who isn’t Omar.” After that group’s sad self-destruction, Ward moved on with 2/3s of his former band to form Sparta, a band that put out one pretty awesome EP and two inoffensive albums, never getting the same press / buzz / respect / whatever of his former band’s other splinter group; the monolithic and often stupid Mars Volta.
And now it’s 2008 and Ward is operating as a solo dude under the super-neat moniker Sleepercar. His first record under that name,
Breaking away from the post-rock that spawned him, Sleepercar’s West Texas has a lot more in common with likes of Ryan Adams or Wilco (hell, even U2 at times) than it does with Ward’s other two big vehicles. Maybe the dude just needed a break after being in such loud bands for so long, but it’s more likely that this quieter, folkier side has always been in him. The album has a very natural feel to it; Ward’s country-folk strum is a much smoother transition from his noisier stuff than one might expect.
The album kicks off, and I mean it kicks off, with “A Broken Promise,” which is an alt-country, shit-kicking anthem with a furious and catchy buildup Sadly, it lacks a dramatic payoff or final crescendo to make the build worth it; the song is the audio equivalent of having some great sex with a lady / dude / whatever, but not getting off. Still, even without a payoff, it’s one of the better songs on the album
Things progress there pretty linearly from that point on. Songs either sound like Summerteeth era Wilco (without the psychedelia) or post-Whiskeytown era Ryan Adams (without the douchebaggery), which isn’t to say that the songs are bad, just a little familiar. If you’re going to make a country album within the rock spectrum, you could do a lot worse than take cues from Wilco and
The biggest problem with the album, besides its familiarity, is Ward’s voice. The man seems only to have two settings; pleasant, low-key hum and higher pitched, throat pushing yell. When the two get dubbed over each other in self harmony, it sounds awesome (see “You Should Run), but more often than not, these two tones grow tiresome, and can’t carry the quieter, more natural tone of the record.
Normally, I wouldn’t fault a guy for having a rock voice, but it sounds off-putting within this setting.
As far as debuts go,
Rating: 5.5 out of 10
Key Tracks: A Broken Promise, Kings and Compromises, You Should Run
Buy, Steal or Skip: Steal