Sing Out America!


ow many country signifiers can you pack into a song without it becoming an actual country song? While the rootsy Midwestern songcraft and acoustic instrumentation has earned them the label "alt-country," Decibully never exhibits that genre's secondhand barstool twang. Instead, by placing familiar down-home sounds in unfamiliar contexts, they establish a space to allow what are essentially basic rock songs to develop their own organic feel from the ground up.

Take "Meg and Magill," a song led by a banjo figure that couldn't get any further from bluegrass. The tune itself has the fleeting salty aroma of a sea chanty, or an Irish pub tune, but never sounds like a folky genre exercise because the instrumental arrangement veers off into booming double-tracked drums and electric guitars. On the other hand, "Rid of Me at Last" has the chord structure and melody of a classic rock ballad, but the pedal steel lends it a graceful tone an electric guitar simply couldn't conjure up.

Midway through the record, they trot out the album's only really traditional guitar rocker, "Sing Out! Sing Out! Sing Out!", and it fits right in. By then they've established their sound so completely that you really don't notice a difference between that song and something like "Penny, Look Down," another straight-ahead rock song led this time by a whining organ sound. Even the a capella "Temptation," the album's most overtly experimental track, seems to fit seamlessly within the band's aesthetic.

Decibully apparently began as a trio, and have gradually added members until reaching their current total of seven. Sing Out is their first album composed with the full band, and it shows. All of the players are fine accompanists, and their eagerness to allow their own sounds to be subsumed by the ensemble as a whole is what creates the band's subtle, unique sound. Listen closely to the open bars of "Let's Eat Our Mistakes", and you'll be surprised when you realise how many parts there are. Each player adds just enough notes to enhance the overall sound without ever stepping on anyone else's toes.

How you respond to singer William J. Seidel is probably a good indicator of how you'll respond to the band overall. He has a tendency to over-emote at times, which works on some tracks but can be grating on others. His lyrics can be a bit too wordy as well; he keeps it in check for the simpler topics, relationships and such, but gets a little out of hand when it comes to politics. "Rid of Me at Last" is a bittersweet and affecting break-up tale, but it's immediately followed by "Notes to Our Leaders," which veers between obscure metaphors ("Sidewalk chalk writers leave notes for our leaders / Who cover our eyes with candy and bubblegum") and heavy-handed sloganeering ("Welcome to our state / Here is your flag and your minimum wage").

The only major misstep here is the sequencing of the leadoff track, "I'm Gonna Tell You," which starts off with quietly strummed chords before the whole band comes crashing in and Seidel sings the chorus over and over with a feverish urgency. It's a great song and a strong opener. Trouble is, it's a great Radiohead song. Specifically, the one on OK Computer that ends with Yorke mumbling "We hope that you choke" over what sounds like seagulls. Seriously, it's a dead ringer, right down to the fuzz bass that dominates the mix in after it kicks in. We're talking royalties-caliber similarities, much closer than that Flaming Lips song for which they had to pay Cat Stevens. Not that I'm morally opposed to nicking other band's riffs or anything like that, but I think it's a mistake to open the album with it because it invites a lot of comparisons that don't really fit; the rest of their songs don't sound like Radiohead at all. In time, I think they'll come to regret not burying it somewhere on side 2.

Reviewed by: Bjorn Randolph

Reviewed on: 2005-04-06

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