Having previously been a one-man outfit for Krist Kreuger, on their second full-length Southerly have become a full septet -- perhaps unsurprisingly, the instruments played include strings, brass, clarinets, and xylophones, very much in line with the current "indie rock = mini-Broadway musical ensemble" Zeitgeist. So there's no surprise that that's the way it sounds, and if Storyteller and the Gossip Columnist is in the end one more in the series of entries that defines recent rock & roll in a path including the Delgados, the Arcade Fire, the Decemberists, and more, it's still attractive enough listening if not remarkably unique.
As the band's main man, Kreuger exercises a light, reflective vocal touch; as a performer he can and does play a lot of instruments himself and doubtless keeps a careful hand on the arrangements to make them sound just so. Low feedback swells, calmly understated string parts, steady-as-she-goes piano playing, and a generally restrained but anthemic feeling throughout show that Kreuger and company are both good at what they do and fighting in an increasingly crowded field that shows little sign of immediately slacking off.
Sometimes the sheer romance of the performances suggests slightly older models, whether it would be the Tindersticks in their early days or even the intentionally overripe flow of the Verve circa Urban Hymns, but in the end Southerly's credit comes from being clearly skilled rather than distinctly unique -- it might say something that the first song to show some quicker tempos is the tenth out of 14. It may yet all happen for them, and there's no question that this will find an appreciative audience somewhere, if maybe not one as wide-ranging as Kreuger's many sonic compatriots and touchstones, but Storyteller and the Gossip Columnist can be given no greater praise than that.
released 15 May 2007
All songs written arranged and most instruments performed by Krist Krueger. Engineered by Robert Bartleson at Haywire Recording Studio (Portland, OR) and Krist Krueger at Sonic Sandbox (Portland, OR). Produced by Krist Krueger and Robert Bartleson. Original artwork by Heidi Elise Wirz (www.shebeastillustration.com
). (c) & (p) 2007 Krueger Music Publishing (ASCAP) / Self Group, LLC.