Burd Early – Magnet Mountain

Burd Early
Magnet Mountain

In the wake of September 11th, some media pundits suggested that irony may well have died in the United States for the immediate future. While that pronouncement proved a bit premature, as within weeks we were back cracking jokes about how dumb George Bush is and how weird Michael Jackson looks, the music released in the year since the World Trade Center disaster has taken on a decidedly serious tone. Springsteen, Beck, Steve Earle, et al, have all turned out some of their most careful and serious work to date, and few albums have crackled with the carefree sense of irony that colored the work of famously snide indie songwriters like Smog and D.C. Berman. And even as James Angelos seems to want to align himself with such indie rock stalwarts (especially Berman) with his solo project, Burd Early, he proves that leaving out the wit and understated humor of such projects renders them a bit ineffective in the long run.
With his first full-length, Angelos has mastered the aesthetic of mixing slightly rhetorical poetry with a coolly disinterested deadpan delivery and a quieting musical backdrop to create a very suggestive climate. The only problem is, all the set-up usually goes to suggest that a statement of unique creativity and vision is about to be made, as the clearing away of textural fluff erects a stage where the artist’s personality is free to assume the spotlight. As such, a musical undertaking of this variety is clearly dangerous, as those without the strong personality of a D.C. Berman or a Vic Chesnutt might not be able to pull it off. At this point, Angelos has a much better grasp of setting up the proper musical dynamic, as the mix of acoustic guitar, brushed drums, and stark pianos makes for musically compelling listening that manages to carry the weight placed on the arrangements if only just barely.
The twinkling electric lead and wistfully inconspicuous melody of the opening “Driftwood” creates a suitable climate for its escapist themes, just as the classy piano strikes of “Tire” excellently accent Angelos voice cracks as he strains to hit the high notes. And while the album has no musical sore thumbs sticking out of the set, by the time the last half of its tracks wind down, they begin to melt into a pleasantly samey mélange of quieting moroseness and electric slide guitar, separated only by slight variations in texture and tempo. Loose and always slightly sour, the musical aesthetic is paired with a vague sense of displacement and disillusionment that runs through all too much of the work of modern indie rock singer/songwriters. No doubt, he’s always on the verge of doing something interesting, he just never quite makes it.
In the end, Magnet Mountain has enough musical bright spots to balance out the more nondescript moments, and even if it doesn’t exactly grab you by the intellect and throw you to the ground with its cleverness, the album is consistent enough in mood and sound to rank it as a modest success. If anything, the album goes to show just how difficult it is to consistently come up with original and entertaining ideas in the nearly exhausted realm of rock song lyricism. The musical end of the equation is set up nearly faultlessly. All Burd Early needs to do to rise to the ranks of the greats in the genre is find a little more personality and make a statement fitting of the carefully constructed stage that is already waiting.