Tractor Kings – Homesick

Tractor Kings - Homesick

Tractor Kings - Homesick

Tractor Kings call it “rural cathedral”; it’s what alt-country streaked with psychedelia sounds like. This original blend makes Homesick unique. But otherwise this album struggles, the songs waft by, their passing hardly noticed.

Tractor Kings rotates around Jacob Fleischli, the other members always coming and going. This time around the lineup includes 4 members with a couple of guest musicians. Fleischili has been at this since at least 2001.

The songs on Homesick, the band’s third album in 8 years, amble leisurely along, led on by the drawn out vocal as much as the rhythm. In their better moments, Tractor Kings tap the strengths of early art rock bands like the Velvet Underground. Those moments are soon swallowed by listless stretches of spiritless, milquetoast songwriting and performances.

“Crooked Miles” is a good example. The jangly guitars and snappy tempo could coax out a few head nods, but the song never manages to shake the cloak of mediocrity. “Drop the Fight” is better. Recreating a late 1960’s-early 70’s feel, the band summons some energy here, conveying confidence and swagger. Fleischili channels Lou Reed—meaning that he compensates for his lack of singing ability by severely limiting his range, almost as if he’s speaking with a drawl. It’s barely tonal, but it can work. On “Drop the Fight” Fleischili mutters, “We had to make a stand, the soldier’s hand, for battle ground, didn’t give a damn”.

Homesick features a mix of accessible, personal lyrics as well as some protests. Unfortunately, none of the songs carry the weight, tension, or grit of a Lou Reed track. Fleischili also likes Bob Dylan, but lacks the creativity and bite of a Dylan vocal. Besides, Dylan really can sing.

Tractor Kings come closest to Velvet Underground on “See You Again”, a slow pop chord progression fashioned by shimmering guitars. Yes, this is one of those chord progressions that’s hard to screw up, but Fleischili adds his own sound. The song takes a haunting turn, slowly gathering dark psychedelic tones and noises that pile on layers of tension. Here is the palpable atmosphere that the rest of Homesick sorely needs. The band also offers a full band cover version of Dylan’s “Masters of War”. In doing so, they impart more urgency than they do in the other 11 tracks combined. But Dylan sets a high, high bar, and this cover can’t match that seething outrage that always lurked just under Dylan’s skin.

Much to Tractor Kings credit, they do have a sound all their own, despite the vocal allegiance to Lou Reed and Dylan. Fans of the band’s previous two albums, Sunday Night and Gone to Heaven, will enjoy this. Nevertheless, at their best, Tractor Kings is to Lou Reed what The Zombies are to The Beatles or The Kinks.