Thursday, November 10, 2011

Letters From the Coast - (The) Caseworker

Letters From the Coast

(The) Caseworker
Hidden Shoal Recordings.

SCQ Rating: 73%

Taking a moment to consider (The) Caseworker’s sonic semblance to the Velvet Underground, I hardly expected the hyperbole (proffered in the press release to Letters From the Coast) to suck me into a troublesome rabbit-hole. Subconsciously, I think I’d expected to retort in the obvious, dismissive manner that most people do when the name of that certain iconic Lou Reed-fronted band gets tossed around. And although (The) Caseworker’s songwriting approach bears no more than superficial similarities to the famed rockers’ gritty output, their sound nonetheless defies concrete association. Despite a strong aroma of 90s indie-rock permeating Letters From the Coast (particularly American Analog Set), the quartet also projects a tidy perfectionism reminiscent of post-millenial faves The Radio Dept and The Go Find.

That insistence on having each beat perfectly measured and each note ringing at the same register leaves (The) Caseworker dangling over a sterile wasteland. Give it a few listens, however, and their exacting nature begins to relax, slouching back and exploring the aural comfort zone they exude. The proof is in Letters From the Coast’s variety; the guitar work behind ‘National Runner’ loiters grumpily behind layers of shoegaze whereas ‘The Slow Track’ employs melodious guitar tones over a synthetic-sounding drum pattern. These two tracks not only outline the record’s opposing poles, they form the record’s opening couplet. Subsequent tracks avoid tampering with volume or stylistic shifts, opting to play with subtle structure changes instead, and that cardinal rule lends songs like ‘Sea Years’ and ‘Sister Song’ an undeniable maturity.

By the end of closing track ‘Little Good It Did You’, I’m no closer to deciding whether (The) Caseworker is garage-rock sans grit or indie-pop with added fuzz. It doesn’t really matter when the whole thing’s so single-mindedly comforting. With its forty minutes thriving on such even-keeled economy, Letters From the Coast rarely challenges or disappoints.

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