The lingering notes on Patrick Phelan's 2000 self-titled for Jagjaguwar seemed to suggest hesitation, like he was unsure of or at least unhurried about bringing his personal voice out of South's drifting post-rock. But his sophomore effort, Parlor, integrated that dawdle thanks to a more effective band setup, and 2005's Cost is better still. "Favor," for example, includes his usual lush exhale of a singing voice, and his spidery acoustic guitar. But it rides on a thick bassline that's lent even more girth in the outro by the addition of scraggly electric guitar. (Sonic Youth is nodding favorably in the wings.) Cost works because it levels off somewhere between linger and indie rock flourish. Phelan is happy to dwell on opaque thoughts and feelings. But he understands how to color them with a little force or unlikely instrumental turn. Even a spare voice and guitar number like "Sails Descending" builds real tension with well-placed instrumentation in support -- liquidy keys and the scrape of a violin -- and "Settlements," which might have floated off on some detour in the past, is now brief and to the point. Like most of Cost it's still elegiac and cloudy, but it reaches its elevation faster. "Through the Bedroom Wall" takes a little longer to arrive, but it too plays Phelan's hushed fluster and romantic keyboard surges off a dynamic instrumental break, and "Ruin," maybe Cost's best track, makes great use of both dramatic guitar notes and Phelan's vocals. Pleading through the song's splattering reverb, he sounds like a '50s crooner wallowing in (Smog).
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AllMusic Review by Johnny Loftus