3 out of 5
Produced by: Brian Deck
From the unsustainable creativities of Red Red Meat came Califone and Sin Ropas – Tim Rutili’s and Tim Hurley’s projects, respectively – and its been fascinating to see their trajectories, with ‘fone starting in very similar post-RRM, junkyard folk territory before going off into more minimalist whimsy, and Sin Ropas moreso beginning with that whimsy, and then finding their way to arguably more interesting and bold material.
But that’s my bias: I loved where Red Red Meat ended up and thus Califone’s initial sound, but Rutili’s trajectory thereafter has seemed not so far off from other Chicago Thrill Jockey contemporaries of his scene: it’s quiet; it’s poetic; it’s rustic. I’ve enjoyed it, but I’m not engaged. Ropas, meanwhile, definitely had me interested with this debut – Three Cherries – as it hooks into earlier RRM rocky folk, but ultimately sounded / sounds rather “plain”, and somewhat repetitive. As their sound evolved, though, it arranged these pieces more and more into Hurley’s own design. In other words, Califone’s unique clatter started sounding like other stuff I’d heard; Ropas started sounding like themselves.
But back on this album, we do already have a lot of things going on: there’s a playfulness to the song titles and band name (Sin Ropas = without clothes, according to allmusic and probably if I bothered translating it) that runs counter to some of the darkly cryptic lyrics, not to mention the morass of the jangle. That latter bit is what proves to be Sin Ropas’ bread and butter: Red Red Meat ended by mixing their roots rock with indie-fied electro; Hurley takes the bleakest aspects of that and drops layers of lush slide and distortion atop, given the crispest and most rich production edge by pal Brian Deck. Opener Rabbit Dreams and the first few tracks are a whirlwind of instantly grabbing hooks that somehow also move at a snail’s pace, Hurley’s monotone singing style fleshed out (and properly juxtaposed) by the denseness of the music. It’s early RRM meets early Sparklehorse, minus the punk of one and the pop of the other.
We ping-pong between direct hooks and indirect, affecting stuff, then mid-album instrumental I Found Your Teeth is where it feels like the ideas somewhat run out of steam. First is that the clipped beat comes across like and more upbeat Califone, which is fun, but late in that game to play such a card; this is also stretched out beyond a breaking point – this is the longest track on the disc – and then tries to make a stumbling transition to a warmer style in its last section which further crumbles the immersion. It’s hard to pick back up after this; the last three tracks not only sound fairly similar to what came before, but also tend to blend together into one run.
More listens help to adjust expectations, of course, but I always remember the first part of this album over the second part.
Still, while I was admittedly more on board with what ‘fone was doing at this point, Sin Ropas held the distinction of not just sounding like a continuation of Red Red Meat. Hurley’s approach was, overall, less defined, but it made a longer lasting impression, which has kept me as a fan for the albums that followed.