Monday, March 5, 2012

Album Review: Good Old War - Come Back As Rain

Album Rating: B-
Come Back As Rain begins exactly as you'd expect a Good Old War record to begin - an ambient, folk-tinged guitar lick prances around for half a minute before giving way to the dulcet vocal melodies of Keith Goodwin, Tim Arnold and Dan Schwartzman.  Just like that and Philadelphia's heralded indie-folk trio are off to the races with their much-anticipated follow up to 2010's self-titled LP.  Sprawling and soaring vocal melodies, guitar lines worth getting hopelessly lost in and those classic three-way Goodwin/Arnold/Schwartzman warbles still populate the record, yet it's hard not to feel as if something more significant is missing.  Even though Good Old War have infused these songs with the same sunny disposition and tender crooning found on past efforts, Come Back As Rain often slips into purposeless song-writing and redundant track layouts.  Still, the obvious musical prowess with which the trio operate lends the record a good deal of bright moments and a yields a generally uplifting listening experience.

A track like 'Calling Me Names' displays this shift of purpose for Good Old War, with its subtle mid-chorus la-la-la-la-la-la's giving it more of a Disney movie feel than its creators likely intended.  Had the track been composed with such intent in mind, there would no doubt be some leniency with regards to its more-or-less aimless message, but we are left instead with a shadow of the Good Old War we've learned to love.  Songs that were self-reflexive and critical have been replaced by careless songs about some of life's less riveting occurrences; a shift that began with Good Old War and takes even more hold on Come Back As Rain.  Even so, the record has its share of moments and subtleties worth praising: the chorus of 'Touch the Clouds' is chock-full of enough tantalizing three-part harmonies to melt the coldest of critics' hearts, where 'Loud Love' is the sort of song that anyone can fall effortlessly in love with.  It feels just right as Goodwin sings out on 'Better Weather' about how the bad times will pass to make way for the good, but the song's simplistic approach and uplifting message are as easily praised as they are critiqued. 

With the release of another solo record from friend and musical colleague Anthony Green hitting stores a mere month and a half prior to Come Back As Rain, one surely would have liked to see some collaborative efforts between Good Old War and the Circa Survive frontman surface on either of the records.  With how beautifully constructed and well-received 2008's 'Weak Man' was, a track from Only Way to Be Alone that saw both Good Old War and Green converging at their best on a truly magnetizing song, it's unfortunate that no such collaboration finds its way onto the new album.  Although one can admire their independence from so formidable a musical force as Anthony Green, it's just as easy to listen to a song like 'It Hurts Every Time' and wonder why the two-minute-mark solo featured a guitar instead of Green's unmistakable voice.  Still, there's no denying the overall warmth of the record and minimal sense in trying to pick out what more they could have done.

As the final chorus of 'Present for the End of the World' quickly wraps itself up and the record comes to a rather blunt conclusion, it almost feels as if 2012 Good Old War are holding something back.  For as much as they leave listeners with beautiful and inviting songs about better days and the tenderness of love, one can't help but feel as if more could have gone into Come Back As Rain.  That being said, the record still presents a lot of moments and tracks worth enjoying - something we certainly can't hold against Goodwin & co.  For the amount of lovable music provided to us from Good Old War thus far, we can only do our best to cherish the finer moments and hope for higher concentrations of them to come in the future.

Stream Come Back As Rain in its entirety here.

1. Over and Over
2. Calling Me Names
3. Amazing Eyes
4. Better Weather
5. Can't Go Home
6. Not Quite Happiness
7. Touch the Clouds (Taste the Ground)
8. It Hurts Every Time
9. After the Party
10. Loud Love
11. Present for the End of the World

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