Glasstown – Living and Forgetting

Living and Forgetting

There is something about the music on Glasstown’s Living and Forgetting that is refined. The band consists of six members, who play instruments ranging from Korg, Moog, and Oberheim synthesizers to the french horn to the Igloo ice chest (I don’t know). On top of that, vocalist Adam Klein has written an acclaimed collection of short stories entitled The Medicine Burns. The band has even performed with popular bands like Grandaddy, Death Cab for Cutie, and Creeper Lagoon. Glasstown also has a pretty unique sound, combining their endless orchestration of instruments with falsetto vocals. With all this on their side, something is still amiss.
The album is a generally pleasant listen, failing to grab the full attention of the listener. Sixty minutes in length, Living and Forgetting consists of 11 songs – the average song length is, you can do the math, long. It is not easy to listen through the album in one sitting, as each song barely strays from that mid-tempo gait. Klein’s vocals do little for me. Yes, he can sing falsetto, and he does have a good voice. But I do not feel that it fits well with the instruments. Klein’s whine is comparable to that of Neil Young, but is decidedly more romantic (see “The Only Way to Love You”) and not as bearable.
Half the songs on Living and Forgetting are fairly special, while the rest are not the most memorable. “Mosaic” provides the album with an opener that blueprints what is to follow. The synthesizers are used to a crazy extent on this song. In fact, the combination of synths and bass owns me. However, the vocals seem to eclipse the Korg and Moog usage. Why? Klein’s voice is simply too romantic for the music on “Mosaic,” making the song quality much lesser than it could, and should, be. Still, the particular track is among the more interesting on Living and Forgetting.
“Firefly” is the most up beat, in that Elliott Smith’s XO kind of way. The country piano (think David Bowie’s Hunky Dory) and slide guitar stand out from the other 100 instruments used in the song. Wah-wah guitars, Built to Spill style, also help to make “Firefly” the most accessible of the album’s 11 tracks. However, lyrics like “I’m a gentle undulation / I’m a verdant green / the view’s uninterrupted / by jealousy… I’m not much to look at / when the winter comes / but in my proper season / I come alive to pleasin'” end up sounding just a tad pretentious.
“Gilded Age” follows in the same vein as “Firefly” with piano that sounds like it came straight from … the Gilded Age. It is obvious that Michael Mullen knows how to play his keys. But then “The Only Way to Love You” comes out of left field. I don’t care that this song appears in the context of the rest of Living and Forgetting. “The Only Way to Love You” is a predictable soft-rock song – there is no way around it. Even the lyrics secure the song’s place in the realm of soft-rock, “And if you couldn’t figure out / the ways I tried to / save you / change you / leave you / I will leave you / cause it’s all over baby / I am gone / I guess this is the only way to teach you.” Fortunately, songs that are not so hypersensitive smother this song. “Living and Forgetting” and “Dithering Lows” are the two standout tracks on the album’s second half. Both are dreamy and fantastical, and both are interesting throughout their five and nine minute duration. “Dithering Lows,” especially, is something to be heard. The french horn is truly beautiful here.
Living and Forgetting is the very first record put out by the Bitter Stag Records label. The album is a worthy debut with its unique feel and variety of instruments – instruments that these days can only be found on eBay. But the vocals leave something to be desired, as does the overall ability of the album to engage the listener for 60 minutes.