Magnolia Summer

From Driveways' Lost View

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Three years after this St. Louis collective's debut, the group released its sophomore release. Even though the guitars buzz a little louder and the music boasts a harder edge, little else has changed. This is still multi-instrumentalist/singer/songwriter Chris Grabau's project, and it is his sense of loneliness, melancholy, and introspection that drives this haunting album. Like the last disc, this one is best appreciated as an entire work. The songs generally don't jump out individually, but the overall effect finds a groove where the whole exceeds the sum of its parts. Even when the guitars are brought up in the mix on "The Passing Days," the midtempo track can hardly be considered a rocker. There are aspects of Son Volt here, especially in Grabau's moaning vocals on "Habitrail" where he sounds eerily like Jay Farrar. There are also references to Michael Stipe on one of his many contemplative days. Although the musicians are listed, the liner notes don't specify who plays what on each tune. Although that's a bit frustrating, it helps bring unity to the sound, making this feel more like a group effort than a Grabau solo album. The disc loses some steam in its final third, and by the closing cut, the lovely ballad "Palindrome," it falls a bit on the snoozy side, especially when compared to the comparatively lively opening tracks "Along for the Ride" and "Once in a While." Subtle organ on "Director" and more obvious piano on "Sum of All Fears" bring essential textures to this tapestry. The occasional tambourine on the chorus of the latter track is also perfectly placed, another charming and understated touch. It's those production strokes along with songs that grow more impressive with every spin that helps make Magnolia Summer's music so consistently moving on this affecting and gently ambitious album.

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