Blake Rainey is the singer and primary songwriter
of Atlanta band The Young Antiques.
In the context of his band, the music tends to rock, and rock
hard. However, although it sometimes gets lost underneath the
guitars, bass, and driving beats, one of the attractions of
The Young Antiques has always
been Rainey's intelligent and evocative songwriting. These qualities
have now come to the forefront with the release of Appetizer
Sickness, Rainey's first solo effort.
Upon first listen, Appetizer Sickness is a rather sparse affair. The majority of the songs consists of Rainey playing a guitar and singing. Occasionally you'll find a cello, accordion, or the like in the background. However these touches are primarily used as a mood enhancement, and in general aren't really part of the overall structure of the songs. All in all, the album has a slightly raw, country-esque feel that is minimal without being either claustrophobic or dreary.
However, I have to confess that while listening to Appetizer
Sickness, I kept drawing comparisons to Mark
Kozelek (formerly of Red
House Painters). Some of this is due to the obvious similarities
between Rainey's and Kozelek's vocal styles. Although Rainey's
voice is a bit harsher sounding on record, both of the men actually
sing their songs instead of engaging in the usual Indie Rock
mumble. Likewise, both men have an ability to write songs that
reverberate emotionally with the listener.
Yet, I will confess that, while I find Kozelek's solo stuff
interesting and well executed, I always thought the additional
instrumentation of Red House Painters enriched Kozelek's songwriting.
The same seems to hold true with Blake Rainey and his solo material.
Throughout the album, the songs themselves are quite good, and
Rainey's delivery makes them resonate. However, the best songs
on Appetizer Sickness are those few that are fleshed
out with additional instruments. From my perspective, this is
because Rainey, like most singer-songwriters, seems to benefit
from the input of other peoples' creative processes, no matter
how limited their contribution to the overall vision. Furthermore,
as the music is fleshed out, it becomes more complex, which
is something that I, as a listener, look for. Still, this is
not a criticism of Appetizer Sickness by any means,
especially since the album seems well constructed and as such
should be considered a fairly accurate representation of Rainey's
Anyway, as I said above, the best songs on the album are the
ones when it's not just Rainey and his guitar. For instance,
Like Leaves has the same slow pacing as the rest of the
album, however during the second verse a piano comes in and
provides a gentle musical accompaniment. Later in the same song,
a cello and viola chime in and add a richness that is missing
on some of the other tracks. Similarly, Daydream Fields
is enhanced by the contributions of Drew de Mann and Terri Onstad
(from the band No River City), who play accordion and cello,
respectively. On this song, as well as on How Many Times,
which also features de Mann and Onstad, the cello and accordion
give the music a slightly haunted feel which accents Rainey's
moody lyrics. Furthermore, the additional instrumentation allows
the differing musical strains to act as an alternating counterpoint
to the main melody.
With all of my talk about the need for more musicians on Appetizer Sickness, it is perhaps surprising that my favorite song on the album is one which Rainey plays by himself (albeit with additional backing vocals). Cold Sunday Blues sounds like a lost song from Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska-era catalogue. And in this case, the simple, almost cold, emotionalism of the music holds interest, despite the minimal context. Furthermore, on this song Rainey apparently plays two different guitars in the recording, which allows for a very simple "solo" at the mid point, which again sustains the song's energy.
In the end, a friend of mine summed up Appetizer Sickness better than I can. When I asked what he thought of the album, he told me, "I really like it. It's a great late night album." And as I thought about his comment, I knew he was dead on. Appetizer Sickness, with its slowly haunted music and spare recording, is not the type of album you listen to as you're driving out to the club for a night of music and drinking. Rather, it's the album you want to put on after you get home, and it's dark out, and you need something that's a bit more contemplative to wind up the evening.