An Angle

We Can Breathe Under Alcohol

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An Angle tidies up the production and expands some of the arrangements for We Can Breathe Under Alcohol, their second effort for Drive-Thru. Bass, drums, strings, keys, Jessica Brown's pretty backing vocals -- there's even an occasional blast of brass. But at the center of it all is still Kris Anaya, the Sacramento band's songwriter, singer, and only static member. And he's still a weary, lovelorn, life-curious drunk, meaning that We Can Breathe doesn't feature enough of his talent or that of the ten-plus people in its credits. As they were on And Take It With a Grain of Salt, Bright Eyes and Elliott Smith are still immediate touchstones for Anaya's rambling, wordy indie pop (He has perfected a version of Conor Oberst's bruised warble). Give him a break -- after all, Anaya and his mates are just kids. They're in that naïve, vice-discovery stage about alcohol and cigarettes; they still see sitting in the barroom as an anxious novelty, and the music they make together reflects their immediate influences. But this doesn't forgive We Can Breathe's frustrating search for a solid melody. "Angry Drunk" has prescient lyrics -- "Every month I get checks in the mail/Yeah my mother says my drinking's becoming an issue " -- but its sighing arrangement for strings and brass plods along listlessly. And "Born in a Bottle"'s stumbly acoustic twang might work because Anaya delivers the whole thing with a drunkard's nodding-off bravado, but the similarly spare "Whales Talk Whales Walk" is again too directionless. "Change the World" and "Way With Words" have bouncy rhythms and tingling keys. They're a great step forward, and prove Anaya isn't climbing inside his conscience (or whiskey bottle) all the time. But even if he's "sick of the people worried of me" (as he says on "St. Augustine"), he and An Angle should try to change the world without drinking it away. Morose is only cool in moderation. And that goes for Bright Eyes, too.

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