The esteemed author of the fantastical, Clive Barker, once imagined a Dead Letter Office at the center of America. Over time this place accumulated all manner of curiosities and delights, mysteries and wonders.
Perhaps Austin, Texas is the aural equivalent of that place? Self proclaimed "Live Music Capital", I half expect to hear, "we have BOTH kinds of music, Country AND Western!" So while most local acts are dispatched to the appropriate pigeonhole, some remain doomed never to find their intended audience. Of course, Austin has enjoyed breakthrough Indie acts. Lift To Experience, SPOON and Explosions
In The Sky all hailed from these parts with only the faintest steel pedal twang to associate them with alt-country.
Now Austin has The Onlys and not the faintest idea what to do with them! Had they been a Montreal or Toronto band I'll wager it'd be a different story. EVERYBODY would have heard of Limbic System and the album would sit, rightfully, alongside Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene in every review of the year.
Limbic System is majestic. A rich collection of off-kilter, lo-fi songs that reward repeated listening. Across sixteen tracks, The Onlys offer gentle acoustics, eerie synth-modulated melodies and harsher, textured guitars, enveloping Limbic System with true personality.
The Lights on Black Hills Street gives an early indication of the band's
power and potential. A Yo La Tengo waltz with a nod to American Music Club
dynamics and the sensitivity of Low. Yet The Onlys defy genre comparison. While
they bring other bands to mind, they somehow never sound like anyone else.
This is notable again on the ghostly Tulsa and even with Attica,
the album's only real dalliance with US college rock. Here, there's a strong
road-movie feel, sonically in the Pixies/Husker Du mould (pun intentional).
Limbic System reaches its creative peak with the trio of Slide Song, Shine and Reborn. A curvaceous slide-guitar moan transports the former, while a lonely harmonica cries out on the exceptional Shine. Reborn plays homage to a Pavement-fixated Blur before Sinking Stones reprises Slide Song with a beautiful new arrangement.
And it all works perfectly with diverse vocals (shared duties with the brothers Chenoweth and Femme Fatal keyboardist Rachel Romo) and exceptional bass playing to the fore, driving the songs and lending real thematic narrative. A handful of experimental tracks leads us finally to ah Happiness, which is simultaneously soft yet resentful. (Think Go-Betweens) It closes the album nicely leaving such a bittersweet taste that there is only one place to truly find solace.
Limbic System is a triumph. This collection of fuzzy, off-kilter alt rock fully merits top marks and HAS to be a contender, surely, for album of the year, despite being released in 2005? I don't recall Arcade Fire protesting too loudly over their (posthumous) 2005 awards for 2004's Funeral. I only hope Limbic System can make a similar breakthrough to its Canadian spiritual sibling and find its intended audience.
Who exactly? Oh, I'd say music lovers, simply.