Marc Olsen

Didn't Ever...Hasn't Since...

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On 1997's Tunnel Songs, Marc Olsen seemed to be digging those titular throughways straight down, or at least posting a "No Outlet" sign at their entrances. Two years on, he's returned with Didn't Ever...Hasn't Since..., and while it's not exactly a happy-go-lucky ska album, the presence of a full band helps Olsen reach for some sort of higher highs. Think of a lovelorn, slightly jaded Elliott Smith instead of a claustrophobic, embittered Smog. After the drifting, almost ethereal opener, "Missed," Olsen turns in two relatively upbeat numbers that hang on a key ring of influences, but are nevertheless defined by his raspy, almost strained vocals. "Your Day" is gorgeous and lingering, skewing toward slowcore but keeping the overall Americana quality of Olsen's work. This is deceivingly potent stuff, and it can depress you for sure. But what else are you going to do on a long, lonely winter night? Luckily, Olsen isn't morose enough to resist a lightly funky instrumental. "Fly By" features a flitting Farfisa trading licks with a reverb guitar over a groovy, jazzy drum kit, and slowly fades to remain as a lone organ fighting the funk on its own. Side two (in effect) begins with "Horse Is White," which returns to the album's overall sound with a thumping bassline and refined bar band guitar. The album highlight arrives in the form of the pristine "San Antone." "But I hear your call/All the way from here to San Antone," Olsen croons, joined as he does by Anne Marie Ruljancich, who seems to echo his call from the depths of the Texas desert. The song builds deliberately into a pedal steel overture, getting you to nod your head even though there's precious little there. But just when the song is about to break into real rockingness, the wind dies down, and all that's left is Olsen and Ruljancich's harmony. Was it all a dream in the first place? Maybe -- long, lonely winter nights'll do that.

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