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Ames is made up of self-described "[d]esert highway narratives, folk tales from the front yard, and loose guitar lo-fi for the super-8 movie" and calls itself "headphone core for the analog," and that pretty much covers as well as it can possibly be conveyed the general sound of this shambling, hazy, and entirely captivating oasis of music. The songs are alternately dry as scrub-brush, or woozy as a sleep-deprived hallucination, joyously messy or reflective, and they are full of individual gestures and effects both epic and intimate. More specifically, the album is meant to represent a vaguely conceptual soundtrack to a fictional road trip, in which a man alone travels the wide expanse of the open road, documenting as he passes by the empty motels, half-deserted towns, all-night diners, and other landmarks of decay and neglect, including perhaps his own relationships. That ambition the album admirably accomplishes, and through its music rather than with its words. In other words, it skillfully shows rather than tells, and the result is a long drive, both stifling and liberating, down an unending road that disappears into a West Coast horizon, with the music hovering over this landscape like a big, open sky. There are languorous, highway-worthy tunes here -- some instrumentals, like the opening "Amboy, CA" and the title track, and other sweeping and atmospheric songs, like the aggressively rootsy "The Man Who Never Left His Apartment" and quasi-funky "Liquored (In the Baker)" -- but they are interspersed with quieter, more delicate rest stops that take their cues from folk and country, among them the yearning "We Don't Need to Speak." Then there are songs that combine the two styles, as "The Telephone" does when it transforms from tender acoustic strumming into a bold, raucous jam before settling into mellower ambience. Appropriately enough, Ames, and Tracker itself, was the brainchild of one man, John Askew, who put the album together over several years, writing all the songs, producing, and handling most of the instrumental duties himself, with only a bit of help from friends and fellow travelers Adam Selzer (Norfolk & Western) and Erik Herzog (Buellton). It is an outstanding first effort.

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