Continuing their evolution from straight-up Nashville roots-folk act to purveyors of lush indie pop, the Apache Relay turn in a more refined and distinctively less Southern set for their third effort. A six-piece sporting a full rhythm section, the band has come a long way since the dusty Americana of their 2009 debut 1988, which was billed as Michael Ford Jr. & the Apache Relay. Two years later, they solidified their approach and shortened their band name with American Nomad, a more rock-oriented album that still relied on a certain rootsy, open-road twang. With their self-titled third album, the band eschews Nashville altogether, instead traveling to L.A. to work with esteemed producer Kevin Augunas (the Lumineers, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros) at Fairfax Recordings (formerly the legendary Sound City). The resulting album ultimately feels more honed and more unified than anything else they've done. Lead single and album-opener "Katie Queen of Tennessee" is a sublime blend of orchestrated, late-'50s countrypolitan and Fleet Foxes-era indie pop. Its deeply reverbed vocal blend and dense, acoustic strumming sets the tone for the rest of the album's 11 cuts which retain an essence of the band's roots sound, but filtered through Augunas' acoustic Wall of Sound. The clever use of mixed hand percussion and a minimalist drum kit endows many of the tracks with catchy rhythmic hooks, like on the punchy, shimmering "Ruby" and the moody "Good as Gold." Perhaps the album isn't a complete reinvention of the band, but it's definitely a case where applying some very distinct stylization to their songs gives the band a very different impression than last time around. The stripping away of more overtly country ornamentations like mandolin and fiddle in favor of piano, organ, and strings complements Ford's new, more pop-flavored songs, making for the band's most interesting and engaging album yet.
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AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger