3 out of 5
Produced by: Alan Weatherhead, David Lowery, John Morand
Label: 429 Records
Despite sharing members, and mining similar slackerfied, sarcastic lyrical themes, and admittedly sounding similar at points thanks to a dusting of Americana across both, the David Lowery-led Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven _are_ two separate bands; seasoned listeners can likely spout the looser, more group-oriented CVB style over the straight-forward zing of Cracker, and the former’s more eyes-wide songs of social disenchantment and / or silliness vs. Cracker’s tracks about chicks and relationships and bands. I’m not going to roll my eyes if you mistake one for the other, but there is a difference.
And when David Lowery released Palace Guards under his own name, there was yet another variant. Again, we have some reappearing names, and a folky tinge hovering over it all, and some tracks that are undeniably CVB-like or Cracker-like, but, his purported reason for releasing these songs separately – that they didn’t quite fit with either band – holds up. Lowery’s a bit more laid back on Palace Guards, not as cutting or weird or emotive as he’s been elsewhere, but then there’s an impressive amount of variety wended in to the recognizably Lowery-helmed DNA of the music: the title track’s jiterry, stop-start flow; the Sparklehorse sighing pace of Deep Oblivion; the disruptive and yet melodic choruses of Ah, You Left Me… There’s a lot here to like, and though the construction of these songs over the years renders the album without a strong flow or sense of theme, it’s narrowed down to 9 of Lowery’s most accessible and catchy stuff. The lyrical content isn’t quite sarcastic or distinct enough – Palace Guards pits an abusive relationship mindset against the titular ‘guards’ sense of duty, but the thought behind the juxtaposition isn’t quite clear; ‘You Left Me’s laments being followed up by ‘Baby, All Those Girls Meant Nothing To Me’ should be humorously poignant but it feels accidental; and ‘I Sold the Arabs the Moon’ is essentially just a folk tale, strings and all, but _sounds_ like it should be about something more – however, it’s equally, and appreciably, lacking in Lowery’s goofier lyrical tendencies, like occasional crassness or monkey references. So the touch of genericness is perhaps balanced out by a relative sense of maturity.
Palace Guards is one of those albums that you forget how enjoyable it is. I listened to it a lot on release, but the tracks faded from memory in favor of some stronger discs from CVB and Cracker. Revisiting it now, and accepting it as a collection of inbetween moments for Lowery, it holds together extremely well. And perhaps in another twenty or whatever years, he’ll have another disc’s worth of songs released under his own moniker.