Friday, February 1, 2013

Album Review: Ancient History - Tracks

Album Rating: A-
Ever since deciding to fuel his adolescence on a steady diet of Weezer, Belle and Sebastian, and Elliot Smith, Donald Ducote always wanted to be a musician. Not just another poster boy or attention seeker either, he wanted to be a real musician. One who didn’t give a *** about money or the man; one who poured his heart out; one who would make a difference. The initial offspring of this dream was My Sister, a band he formed in 2004: a forgettable five-piece doomed to failure following a tangle with the label head’s girlfriend. Soon he was working with an X-Factor. Not exactly living the dream, is it? 

It was around this time Ducote must have realised how far he’d moved away from his original mandate. He hadn’t changed the world or inspired thousands of people: he was a cog in the cynical vampire of a music industry, and a pretty small cog at that. One could imagine him waking up on a lonely pillow still soaked in last night’s tears of disappointment. It’s in this cycle where something wonderful happened: he stopped trying. With the help of an old friend, Jim Smith, with Paul Johnson (who's mixed for Beirut) and Austin Lemieux, he was going to write songs for himself. The band was eventually titled Ancient History, possibly as an initial hint to the deep veins of catharsis meandering through Ducote’s lyrics of loss, disappointment and confusion in his past.

True to form, Ancient History frames this personal tale with a hazy, lo-fi production reminiscent of Ducote’s 90’s-indie idols. Shufflingly slow tempos set the stage for guitar and sighed vocals which echo into a communal humm. The sparsely used percussion thumps shyly in the background: used more as texture than solid foundations. When they want to be powerful, such as “I Know It’s Late” and “Quiet Nights in Noisy Neighbourhoods,” Ancient History adopt dream-pop guitar drones as sharp whines in otherwise smoky scenery. A positive note drowned in depression: like Sparklehorse’s nonchalant musical tone in view of harrowing lyrics, or The Smith’s decision to play upbeat music while Morrissey is allowed to, well... be Morrissey. Ducote’s vocals seem distant and almost disinterested -breathless in the way a man in his emotional position must force himself to do anything- and in the light of the drugged up atmosphere this seems perfect. 

Tracks progresses much like a steady trudge through tough terrain, with a permeating tiredness and plenty of breaks for instrumental refrains. The tone goes further than Ducote’s self description of “late night red wine and reefer music,” as it emerges as more defeated than he possibly intended. Ducote is very much playing the image of an old man reliving the mistakes of his life, in this sense: the memories are conveyed with exhaustion instead of emotion. The sullen approach he incorporates doesn’t leave much room for energy, and the only point Ancient History approaches dramatic is an angry climactic outburst of “you say you know I can’t let go/ but don’t be so sure that you know me.” A message to Ducote’s peers, perhaps, or the initial motivation for the album summed up in two lines.

It seems ironic after so much trying that Ducote’s finest hour would occur after he gave in.Tracks is a call-back to his early influences, but distinctly personal both lyrically and stylistically. It’s refreshing, too, to hear a man’s grievances in such a nondescript format without the cynical emotional cues (build-ups, breakdowns, strings) to bolster them, mostly because it holds up so well on its own. At points Tracks can appear pretty rough around the edges and slightly dreary, but consider it inevitable for something so deliciously raw.

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Track List:
1. Four-Leafed
2. Hands Are For Holding Drinks
3. At The Rose Hotel
4. Subway Dream
5. Quiet Nights In Noisy Neighborhoods
6. She Gave You The Keys
7. Eskimo
8. The Courtyard At Midnite
9. Clover Honey
10. I Know It's Late
11. Oh Yeah

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