Science Will Figure You Out

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With the image of Dolly, the ovine clone, gracing the cover of his debut, Science Will Figure You Out, leader Tim Howard makes it known his own DNA carries a healthy string of cynicism. But what separates him from the average jaded songwriter is strong imagery, original metaphors, and a combination of humor and poignancy. Musically, the record recalls the Silver Jews' country offerings run through Smog's lo-fi recording equipment (Howard's banjo anchors many of the songs). With Mobius as the backing band, Howard sketches 12 tales (and one instrumental) of misunderstandings, regrets, and disappointments in his inimitable style. He uses clever lines -- like "I miss her now and then/Now and then I really can't remember when" from "Bottomfeeder" -- and extended metaphors, as in "Communist Love Song" ("It was well-conceived in theory/But it doesn't work in life") to give voice to the bitter, miserablist lurking within. Howard's wordplay forms an effective bulwark against the record's blemishes. There aren't many, but the drone-like quality of his voice can exact a toll after a while (Howard uses the same flat monotone the Jews' Dave Berman favors) and he's not beyond the occasional self-indulgent lyric ("Sometimes I like to sit around/Think of witty things to say and write them down," from "I Am Sitting in a Room"). None of the record's flaws, however, are enough to detract from what is a promising first step.

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