hough it’s got much in common with the more ethereal corners of all things ambient— yawning, disquieting plateaus of strings, murmured vocals—Spokane’s Little Hours isn’t what you’d call sprawling.
The album’s best songs are dark works in miniature (“Minor Careers” “Thankless Marriage” “These Things”) with average track lengths under three minutes. Half-broken, twisted jewel boxes of sound, where strings hum like bees (the use, and, even more powerfully, the imitation of ambient sounds natural), and compositions are swooped into conclusion before anything lingers for long.
Even the album’s one six-and-a-half minute beast, “Building,” the most abundant composition on Hours and the one that throws the most data (half a dozen species of barely-there chimes, strings that fade in and out, thirty second stretches of anticipatory silence), unfolds and concludes itself, well, efficiently.
The lyrics, however, demand bat-like aural sharpness. Songwriter Rick Alverson, also of Jagjaguwar’s similarly rural and resigned (and recently dissolved) Drunk, may write tidy rock emotions—“where do we go from here” (“Leases & Promises”)—but he sure makes you work to get them. Hours’s vocals are shrouded in interfering male/female harmonies, enunciated shapelessly, and thrown out like vocal eddies minutes apart downriver. They toe the line between factitiously difficult work (something no one who patronizes independent rock labels seems to have issue with) and pure frustration.
There’s too much obtuseness here, for me at least, and chunks of the aesthetic capital built up during Spokane’s often lovely, largely instrumental stretches go gutter-bound when our vocal, human payoff is a single toss away line about a father’s hand or a view from a window. Even Galaxie 500 knew when to get the point across.
Still, there is something compelling, something worth revisiting in these songs. The band’s press has mentioned, repeatedly, that to mend their four-year hiatus, they constructed the farm house depicted on Little Hours’s cover, and, we can assume, paid tribute to in “Building.” With more time, the album seems to be not just an exercise in restraint, but a conscious withholding of something deeper. We are shown a film only in transition scenes, in interludes. There is something just outside the frame in Little Hours, and the small, patient shape of the album itself becomes a tribute to that act: containment. We just don’t know what kind of container we’re dealing with: a house or a safe?