3 out of 5
Label: Sad Robot
Produced by: Christian Ebert, Frank Mollena
Though more direct and hard-hitting than Sin Ropas’ impressive, if uneven, debut, Trickboxes on the Pony Line feels more like a next logical step in Tim Hurley’s / Danni Iosello’s post-Red Red Meat project than anything else, further defining the band’s sound while hanging on to some safe frameworks. This next step is as exciting as was ‘Three Cherries’ streamlining of the direction RRM had taken and Califone would start with, even if it evens out over the course of the record: Hurley’s yearning croak, mapped to absolutely clattering percussion and a bevy of half-sounds makes for frequently devastating deconstructed folk rock, but strip away the percussion – half the disc is kinda just guitar and Hurley – and things calm. While the lyrics are cryptic – or maybe silly? – as ever, with Hurley’s references sometimes childishly cute, but then put into bizarre framings, the tone has a more celebratory feel overall, when the disc bounces between its modes of rock and singer-songwriter fare. Initially, the momentum makes this work: the opening half of the album favors noise, kicking off with two dense, noisy tracks, including an all-timer in opener Hands Inside, which makes use of Red Red Meat’s punk background. This slips and slides into Butter On Cane, equally fitful but a little less chaotic about it; more contemplative. Then Candy Cobra is our first “quiet” tune. The trio of tracks feels like a full tour of Ropas’ different sides, excitingly fulfilling the potential of their finding their own footing from ‘Cherries’ moderately more limited structure. But after this point, Trickboxes cycles through songs like Butter and Candy Cobra, and the overall range – Hurley’s voice, the guitars – exist within a somewhat compressed wavelength, such that things can blend together. These are both great tracks, so songs that are like them are not bad, and of course, I’m underselling how much noice and instrumentation is stuffed in there; and furthermore, we are strictly in Sin Ropas territory by this point – this is the group understanding their strengths on their own. We’re just not quite to bear those strengths at fuller power, making the last half of the disc feel like it plays things, within context, fairly safe.