Following a relatively new local band is sometimes
like being team mother for the Bad News Bears.
When I first hear a band that seems to have potential, I think,
ďYou know, I canít put my finger on exactly what it is, but
they may have something hereÖĒ However, their early live shows
and first album are rough, clunky, and stylistically all over
the map. Every performance is like a baseball game -- I hold
my breath as it begins, hoping they donít drop the ball. I applaud
louder than anyone, even when they do. Defying the skeptical
looks of friends and critics, I keep supporting the band.
Then, over the course of a year or so, the various talents
begin to fuse, creating a more unified sound and stage presence.
Eventually, if the band members can survive near-fatal mishaps
and work out creative and personality differences, the collection
of musicians morph into a nearly symbiotic entity. And, if Iím
lucky, thereís a final post-season triumph that makes all the
late nights of alcohol and blind encouragement worthwhile.
As luck would have it, one of my favorite local bands, The
Indicators, have done just that. Their sophomore CD release,
Kill the Messenger, is one of the strongest albums
from the Atlanta music scene Iíve heard in awhile. It is a record
of a band in progress, a band that has evolved immensely in
two years from a rather haphazard trio of individuals to a flexible,
productive quartet. Their first album, Beauty is a Whore,
often felt more like a showpiece for Mike Goldmanís guitar-pop
songwriting and Dave McNairís high-speed covers than it did
an ensemble effort. This second release is much better blended
and mixed, including integral musical contributions from all
members of the band.
Kill the Messenger also marks a shift in style
for The Indicators, from the garage rock of Beauty is
a Whore, to a more countrified roots-rock sound. With
the addition of guitarist/songwriter Ken Morton, the tunes often
resemble recent work by The Drive-by Truckers and Slobberbone.
Mortonís voice, in fact, sounds much like Mike Cooley, with
a similar gritty, heart-breaking lyrical style. Eye Spy
plays with tempo and vocals to produce a strong rock anthem,
while Open Road is a mature travel-epic that one could
easily mistake for a Willie Nelson cover. Goldmanís songwriting
shifts somewhat for this album as well, with songs that often
remind the listener of melodic travel ditties and drawling vocal
harmonies a la The Bodeans. Two of the most roots-pop songs
on the album, Easier to Find and Say Goodnight,
most directly evidence this stylistic shift.
Although Kill the Messenger certainly signals
a change in musical direction for the band, Dave McNairís cover
of I Got a Line on You (by Spirit) is a direct reminder
of The Indicatorsí previous wiz-bang garage rock, sounding more
like a live track than anything else on the album. It also reminds
the listener that The Indicators are still a collective work
in progress and not a fully collaborative project. Like many
bands at this stage, most songs bear the distinct signature
mark of one individual memberís lyrical and melodic approach.
Ironically, the albumís first track, I Guess By Now comes
closest to melding the best of their talents, hinting at more
integrated work in the future.
Perhaps the albumís greatest strength is its thoughtful composition
and meticulous arrangement. Recorded by Rob Gal at the Snack
Ďní Shack studio, Kill the Messenger is actually
one of the best-mixed releases Iíve heard from a DIY band on
an obscure label. Adding to the sophisticated presentation are
small, impressive musical touches sprinkled throughout Kill
the Messenger. Most notable are the vocal and instrumental
guest appearances by other locals like Rob Rushin, Murray Attaway,
and members of Charm School, to name just a few. Several close
listens will also reveal a revitalized bass presence provided
by new band member, Michael Arnett, as well as other delicately
placed instrumental accompaniments, including short piano sequences
interlaced throughout many tracks and (my personal favorite)
a whisper of sweet mandolin to begin Say Goodnight.
Indeed, though The Indicators may not be quite ready for the
majors, theyíve pulled together a season-ending showstopper
that testifies to a year of hard work and passion. And, as the
band matures, I look forward to an even more collaborative team
effort that brings together their obvious talents and musical
knowledge. Now, Iím off to scout for another new local band