Like several of my other recent reviews, I've
held on to the most recent release for Chicago's Palaxy Tracks
while I figured out what to say about it. The first thing I
discovered long ago is that Cedarland is a very
good album. But that doesn't tell you much about them. What
type of music do Palaxy Tracks play? What do they resemble musically?
And, finally, what makes this album special?
Original;y from Austin, Texas, Palaxy Tracks relocated to Chicago
a couple of years ago. I haven't heard any of their earlier
material, but I can suggest that Cedarland manages
to combine the sensibility of both their old and new locales.
Although each song on the album could be analyzed in detail,
a discussion of a few of the tracks ought to explain my meaning.
For instance, the first song, The Sediment, begins with
the slightly complex rhythmic drumming that seems to be a hallmark
of The Chicago Sound. However, over this a somewhat chorused
guitar plays a simple but catchy guitar riff that evokes the
same dreamlike quality of a Texas band like Knife
in the Water. Then after a while, the vocals of Brandon
Durham come to the forefront. Still the song turns out to be
very mellow and the simplicity of the song suggests that there
were fewer musicians than the 5 credited on the track.
After that comes my favorite song on Cedarland,
The Wasp. Quicker-paced and more guitar-driven than The
Sediment, The Wasp seems like a typical post-punk
Indie Rock track. I especially like the way the rhythm guitar
and drums combine into ostensibly one musical part. Driven again
by the omnipresent drums, this song could easily be performed
by one of those other Chicago bands I've recently reviewed,
like Taking Pictures.
I suspect I see this resemblance because both bands have the
same musical mixture of driving drums with effects-laden stringed
In contrast, the third track harkens back to the
Knife in the Water comparison. More energetic than the songs
of that Texas band, the soft country-influenced melody of Walking
Backwards also is reminiscent of early Wedding
Present or perhaps a band like Red
House Painters. It's a nice background track that's very
impressive, with a particularly sweet guitar part in the middle,
which then flows into a standout piece on the violin. It's not
a very heavy sound, but again it does invoke a sense isolation
in its musical landscape.
Another standout track on Cedarland is Posthumous.
With the near martial, tom-and-snare heavy drumming of Joe Rowsey
again at the forefront, the song can't be called alt.country
by any means, despite the presence of dueling slide guitars.
Instead, like the time I saw Carissa's Weird in concert, the
slide guitar is played like a real guitar instead of as a country
accent. This gives Posthumous a slightly haunted feel,
which is increased by the backing guitar rhythm. Nevertheless,
the combination of the drumming and instrumentation and the
focus on the guitar invokes the chilliness of their Chicago
brethren and recalls more a band like Midstates as opposed to
a Southern band like Bedhead.
Finally, the last outstanding track on Cedarland,
The Awful Truth, begins again in a slow tone. For once,
the drums aren't my central focus; rather, the chorused guitars
reflect the vocal melody and bring everything together. More
importantly, as The Awful Truth moves into its instrumental
middle, more and more instruments enter into the song. These
remain under-stated and not prominent but still present as the
music begins to swell. Then the original melody is carried by
these numerous other instruments, so that the lack of Durham's
vocals aren't even noticeable as the song continues out to its
over 8 minute length. This is the one song that particularly
emphasizes to me the wintriness which colors Palaxy Tracks'
music. The sheer isolation and slightly-melancholy feel invokes
the stark beauty of the Midwest in winter, as the snow covers
everything and there is little life in sight as you look out
over the barren fields.
When I first got a copy of Cedarland, I had a
hard time figuring out what to make of the Palaxy Tracks, mainly
because it's not the harder garage rock I normally adore. However,
as I continued to listen to the album, I realized that it has
everything that I do like: it's got a compelling vocalist, some
simply beautiful guitar work with under-stated effects, and
everything's all held together by the drumming (which seems
to be the glue of so many Chicago bands). Furthermore, because
of its more mellow moments, it's easy to overlook how perfectly
crafted the music and melodies are. However, with repeated listening
and further reflection, I've come to the conclusion that Cedarland
is a near-perfect Indie Pop album.