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  Neighborhood Veins  
  Potluck Records  
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Schooner is a band from Durham, North Carolina. Their press release informs us that Schooner is really the brain child of one Reid Johnson. Back in 2007, the band recorded a single album, Hold on Too Tight, which nearly caused the group's dissolution. After a complete line-up change (leaving only Johnson as the holdover), the band recorded another EP and then has finally released a second full length, Neighborhood Veins. Both poppy and twangy (with a heavy blend of harmony and reverb), the album meanders its way through its track list, as the record varies between excellence and frustration.

The record begins with It Won't Matter, a jangly countrified riff complete with whistles. With its quick beat and Johnson's low pitched vocals, it reminds me a bit of late lamented band Myssouri, albeit with less of an apocalyptic air, although the echo makes the instrumentation sound a bit chaotic in the last minute or two. It's a bouncy little tune, although it has a few slower-paced interludes, which nevertheless keeps an underlying fast cymbal beat. From there, the album transitions seamlessly into the sublime second tune, Trap. This is a reverb-heavy pop tune, which shows off dreampop-esque guitar, ghostly harmonies, and Johnson's almost shouted vocals. I spent a while pondering what acts this song invokes and I finally came up with it: Hitchhike meets Get Help. In short, this is one that ends too soon.

But then we move into the frustrating listening. After two excellent tunes, the band changes pace with Floodlights and Ghosts. On the surface, the 6/8 beat and thick instrumentation would seem appealing; however, after a few seconds, Johnson croons over a slightly syncopated beat, almost like some late 70s arena rock ballad, completely with bombastic drums and overwrought guitars. Feel Better is in fact better, although it's more twangy and has a tune that can best be described as a Tim Burton soundtrack on too much caffeine. Likewise, Still in Love takes a slow almost plodding pace and adds backing hazy harmonies of a repeated chant of "Still in Love….Still in Love." It's slightly soulful with a doo-wop edge and I want to like it with its tinkly keyboards and backing horn. But the repetition quite frankly doesn't work, especially as the durn thing (and that chant) goes on for nearly 6 minutes.

After the quick Sergio Leone meets laptronica interlude of Veins, things pick back up with Ride With Me, another jaunty tune that doesn't bother to hide its Springsteen influence. This sounds like an outtake of early Bruce (or perhaps solo Eric Bachmann) and holds up quite well. But then we take a left turn into a frightening place where flamenco meets a western graveyard filled with honky tonk singers in the song Nowhere to Wait, complete with triangle and tinkly piano. Doesn't sound inspired? You're absolutely correct. Things come back into line with Flames, which has a saw providing effects under the knee-slapping rhythmic twang of the melody and Johnson's deep voice.

Big Mistake continues with the country influence, although this adds a whole chorus of people singing the entire song which includes lines like, "Make a big mistake, so what am I?" It's an exuberant, almost over the top, tune, which I imagine would be a great show-ender in a live setting. And perhaps Schooner should have ended their album right there because the last two songs, Say My Name and the title track, are actively quire painful to listen to. Say My Name attempts to channel a certain piano soul meets lounge lizard vibe, with a heavy emphasis on the lounge aspect. But even worse is Neighborhood Veins, a 12 minute long meandering morass of sounds, glitches, and samples that tries to be a song, but never quite make it there, leaving the listener going, "And the point is….?" It's a messy and rather gruesome way to end an album.

We occasionally get onto bands for making albums where all the songs sound the same. And you have to admit that Schooner does not fall into that trap. However, their attempts at variety take away from the echoey jangly pop that comprises their best songs (like Trap, Ride With Me, or even Big Mistake). On the other hand, I might be a little hard on Schooner. Those first two songs were so very good that anything that followed were bound to be a disappointment, although I think we can all agree that Neighborhood Veins the song should never have seen the light of day. Still, without those two songs, I likely wouldn't have listened to all of Neighborhood Veins, so I suppose it’s a mixed blessing, much like this album.

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