Portland's Standard have honed their shifty indie rock with each consecutive release. Tense, prickly, and gorgeous, 2004's Wire Post to Wire was their best yet. Albatross is hard to get a handle on at first -- and might not ultimately reach the heights of Wire -- but its unpredictably heady mix of warmth and anxiousness still rewards the patient or the curious. Opener "Red Drop" is a bright piano-driven pop song akin to the Shins, but by "Play the Part" Standard vocalist Tim Putnam is ruminating on mortality and free will as the same piano stabs away at the dark and stern drums. The economical, Spoon-like throb of "Curtain Drawn" and "In Waves" coexists with the arty layers in "Little Green" and "Feet and Hands," and the center of "How Deep to Cut" collapses inward on a bassline and Putnam's cryptic, whispered lyrics. While the Standard are more insular and less theatrical, there are some commonalities between them and the National. Both bands come from the literate wing of indie rock, a place where old Nick Cave and Tindersticks albums still echo. Albatross can sometimes be too insular for its own good -- occasionally it struggles to find a satisfying resolution to a song. But it is surprising, too, like when a pretty piano figure rises out of the otherwise murky "Not Asleep," or "Hills Above" becomes a creepily cinematic epic in its midsection. The Standard might still be honing their sound with Albatross, but the album's moody restlessness is still pretty satisfying, and it features some of the best cover art of 2005.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Johnny Loftus