Over the past couple of years, Lullaby For The Working Class has put out two full-length albums, as well as quite a few 7" singles. Steadily, they've gained not only a local following, but have toured across the country and in Europe and gained some pretty critical acclaim (Rolling Stone gave their last disc I Never Even Asked For Light 3 stars) for a fairly little-known group. A couple members of the group even run a studio out of their basement and release several other excellent recordings on their Saddle Creek label. When I heard their most recent single entitled "The Ebb and the Flow, The To and Fro, The Come and Go," it sounded like they were sort of continuing down the musical path that their last album had started on. Whereas their first disc was for the most part shorter, single-like numbers, they played with several different things on their next release including a long, three-part track that was part instrumental. The aforementioned single was also a longer affair at almost 7 minutes, and it again played with traditional song structure and ambience more.
Simply judging from the number of songs on the new disc and the length of it, it's easy to see that the group has again chosen to stretch things out a bit more. With 9 tracks that span 54 minutes, they again play with bits of ambience, but they're incorporated very well and the group has come out with another great release. While I'm not completely sure anything different was done on this recording as opposed to their others, the strings sound much more full than in past releases and it helps to give the album a very rich, lush feel at just the right moments.
The disc starts off with a very slight feedback drone on the first track "Expand, Contract." After awhile, some simple plucking of a guitar makes itself known in the track and some softer strings rise up as Ted Stevens enters with fairly spare vocals. Eventually, the track builds upon itself and the strings flourish along with the vocals before ending. Also as on their last album, multi-multi instrumentalist Mike Mogis is responsible for about 5 different sounds on the track. Switching up the stringed instruments for brass, the third track "Asleep On The Subway" keeps the same feel as the other tracks, but the backup is a nice mixture of flugelhorn and trombone instead of the violin and viola of the first two.
An upright bass comes to the forefront on the fourth track entitled "Seizures." Lyrics reading somewhat like a mixture of Camus and people watching, Stevens shows off his vocal range more than almost any other track the group has done. After the stripped-down "Non Serviam" the group shakes loose just a bit with "Sketchings On A Bar Room Napkin." With a triple attack of mandolin, guitar and banjo, the track has a jaunty air about it that works right along with the stream-of-consciousness type lyrics. The group again strips things down to only an acoustic guitar and multi-part vocals on the eighth track "Ghosts" before heading into the long, closing track "Still Life." Backed by viola, violin, cello, accordian and nearly 10 other instruments and multiple vocalists, the track never feels cramped and instead manages to pull all the sounds together into a track that ends up being both upbeat and downcast at the same time. It lingers on between verses and even after finished drifts off into a soothing drone before a small reprise. Finally, the group winds things down before 5 minutes or so of the same soft feedback that opens up the disc. If you put it on repeat, it's nearly seamless.
Overall, it's a very solid album and should offer up yet another batch of critical success for the group. Although their sound hasn't changed drastically from their first release, it's enough to show that they're moving in some different directions and trying different things, all of which manage to work. The instrumentation is class as always and as mentioned above, the overall recording sounds better than ever. Stevens' lyrics are part philosophy and part everyday observation and they come off as recognizable without being pretentious. It's not for everyone, but it may just resonate.