On the Lofty Pillars' sophomore issue -- their first seemingly disappeared without a trace despite its quality -- the trio of Michael Krassner, Fred Lonberg-Holm, and Will Hendricks dig deep into the American and Spanish fake books in order to create a series of melodies and songs that are as timeless as the tango and as accessible as the finest in Baroque pop. Driven by the gorgeous yet plaintive longing in the grain of Krassner's voice, the shimmering bowed-string backdrops of Lonberg-Holm, and Will Hendricks' signature acoustic guitar style and piano playing, the 13 songs on Amsterdam are full of brokenness, elegiac harmonies, sonorous darkness, and a certain lostness that is apparent only on the recordings that come from the Truckstop label. Helping out on the set are Jessica Bailey from the Rachels (who, along with Lonberg-Holm, Jen Paulsen, and Kyle Bruckman, make up the string quartet so prevalent here), Glenn Kotche from Wilco, and others. Pathos and gothic Americana are the order of the day here. Opening the disc with gorgeous, lush Spanish guitar and restrained cello, the title track tells a depraved little story, with Krassner expressing loss and grief without wavering in his vocal delivery one note. On "Dishonoured Guest," a narrative of crime and betrayal are recounted as if the pictures of the events were visible for the listener to see. Near the end of the record is "Longing," a Stephen Foster-ish country song. It's a waltz that recounts to an absent loved one how badly the protagonist needs her presence in his life, but also in vain. The loss in Krassner's voice is total; there is bewilderment, disbelief, and incessant grief saturating the track, yet its melodic commitment is unshaken. It's hummable -- beautiful even in all of its tragedy -- and therefore carries the message of the song deeper than ever into the heart of the listener. After all, isn't this what fine pop music is supposed to do? Truckstop is the label to watch, and the trio of Krassner, Lonberg-Holm, and Hendricks are onto something here. Amsterdam is a slow, lovingly and painfully wrought gem of an album.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek