San Lorenzo – Nothing New Ever Works

San Lorenzo
Nothing New Ever Works

With a name like San Lorenzo and the junkyard art motif of their album, I think I can be excused for expecting a third generation rip-off of dusty Los Lobos-esque Tex-Mex rock. Or maybe another tattooed, wife-beater wearing gang of goateed punk-poppers who proudly named their band after their California hometown. As I wasn’t particularly looking forward to hearing either option, I was pleasantly surprised to hear the humming keyboards and deadpan delivery of “Jun,” a track that combines passing glances of the Doors and the Talking Heads before kicking into a pounding garage rocker. It appeared that I had averted the worst of the feared scenarios. Only a three-piece band augmented by a number of studio friends, San Lorenzo is actually from England, as well.
The hushed acoustic guitar and plaintive reading of “My History is Valid,” where vocalist Owen Tromans can be heard to grasp for profundity, spinning non-rhyming couplets such as “my history is the context in which I live” with phrasing similar to Karate’s Geoff Farina, only to ground himself with a rather ineloquent line like “I can see you in so many thoughts gathered from books and TV.” Give him extra points for not name-dropping hip literary references there. With only acoustic guitar and utterly gorgeous glockenspiel, the track is dryly elegant and (unfortunately) unlike anything else on the album.
What follows is a continued dizzying romp through indie rock styles. First, an 8-minute plus-rendition of the Slint-ish “Life Without Mountains,” which rides waves of stinging guitars and muffled vocals as it creeps through numerous passages of varying degrees of focus. Although the following lazy indie-pop of “Tension Halved” comes off as a little by-the-numbers, with a rainbow arcing guitar lines and boy/girl harmonizing, there is no denying that it furthers the stylistic restlessness which is currently San Lorenzo’s defining feature.
While the chugging guitars of “Julie James” and “For Her Math” offer nothing that hasn’t been done numerous times by Sebadoh or Modest Mouse, the plodding scream metal of “Dead Amps” rivals Soundgarden for Sabbath-esque faux-evil. “Montauk,” which for two minutes seems to be a track only comprised of spooky noises and a guy candidly talking about getting into a house and stomping to death a cat, nevertheless eventually gives way to an appropriately weary indie-pop ballad. Saving the best for last, the closing four and half minute instrumental “American High School Rock Song” finds a very agreeable chord progression, stately trumpet solo, and gloriously winding melody that at once calls to mind Radiohead and Yo La Tengo.
In the end, being fluent in an array of somewhat disparate styles is a virtue largely common to only the elite music-makers of the world. And while this is enviable in those artists who ultimately manage to combine influences into a unique and distinctive sound, one gets the feeling that San Lorenzo would do better to settle on one and let it ride out its natural course. Not that they come across weakly in any one area, but you never get the sense that any particular track is presenting the definitive San Lorenzo sound. Of course, just the fact that among these stylistic wanderings, punk-pop and Tex-Mex are left out is a blessing from the band that doesn’t hail from California.