Musical surprises are often the nicest. The anticipation and hype that surround a major release can often blow expectation beyond all reasonable levels, so the end product, no matter how spectacular will have trouble keeping people happy. The Driver is Red by Adam Said Galore, whilst highly anticipated in some circles, was a complete unknown quantity for me, and so the overwhelming praise I feel compelled to heap upon it is a most pleasing task.
Adam Said Galore make music in the post-rock vein of Don Caballero, Codeine, and Polvo, combining the intricate guitar and occasional rocking out tendencies of the aforementioned bands with quieter moments that bring to mind the work of Palace. The songs amble about, avoiding a direct build to a crescendo; instead occasional flutters of violent noise mingle happily amongst pleasant chord changes and the quiet interplay of the two guitars, repetitive bass lines, and imaginative drumming. The album was produced by Chicago sound engineer Casey Rice, known for his work with Tortoise, and his influence is evident on the lighter, dubbier tracks that recall Tortoise circa Millions Now Living Will Never Die.
“Anxious” is the album opener, a track that gets better and better with repeated listens. It patiently builds to a very wistful and heartfelt climax that could either make you want to jump around with joy or lie quietly back, soaking in the emotion. Elsewhere, ASG show their range on “Barber Ted,” which stays at a subdued level throughout. The upbeat “Coasting on Home” serves as a perfect contrast to the strong sense of weariness that emanates from “Magic Planes.” But to see the album as a collection of disparate songs would miss the point; the sum of The Driver is Red is greater than its parts.
Lyrically, the album doesn’t shy away from directness, speaking honestly rather than hiding any sentiment underneath layers of metaphor. Vocalist Andrew Ryan’s voice is completely devoid of nasality and is very pleasant to listen to, his sometimes spoken sometime sung delivery accentuates the music very effectively. The vocals also develop in a natural way amongst the songs, unconstrained by the verse-chorus-verse format. A strong sense of weariness, quiet solitude, and suburban disquiet radiates from the music, with the guitars swelling before taking a step back to allow the lyrics to describe the action.
Overall, this is one hell of a debut LP. Granted, at times there were a few sections on the album that grated slightly, but the sense of a journey being undertaken when the album is listened through from start to finish is almost overwhelming. With only two guitars, bass, and drums (with some occasional piano), Adam Said Galore have crafted what is to my mind one the best releases so far this year, which is all the more pleasant being completely unexpected.