How I Learned to Stop Worrying

The Bigger Lovers

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How I Learned to Stop Worrying Review

by Stanton Swihart

How I Learned to Stop Worrying went through its share of trials and tribulations, hitting a few record label-related roadblocks along the way and taking almost two years to finally see the light of day, but it is a debut album that was more than worth the wait. Amazingly, with all the hardships, not to mention the sway Big Star holds over the music, it never sounds as if it was threaded together by mere chance or act of stubborn will. The band members are very forthright with the inspirations for their music. In addition to Big Star, the influence of Robyn Hitchcock, the Beach Boys, Flaming Lips, and the Who are all discernible to some degree or other. You could also throw the Byrds into the mix. In fact, the latter combo should probably go hand-in-hand alongside Big Star at the top of the list. "Mr. Tambourine Man"-style melodies and harmonies fuel many of Bret Tobias and Scott Jefferson's songs ("I'm Here," "Change Your Mind," "Casual Friday," "Threadbare," and "A Year Ago," among them), and are crossed with sentiments that have the hazy uncertainty of anything off #1 Record. They are then pumped full of the pent-up, animated urgency of the Who. But it is not simply a work of refracted glory. Even if the inspirations are mainly archival, the context and overriding sonic quality is decidedly not. It rewrites the power pop template outright. And when the quartet delves into a sort of chaotic, claustrophobic country-but-not-country, the style seems entirely of the band's own making, and the album strikes out into its own wide-open province. "Steady on Threes" and "Casual Friday," for instance, are inebriated tunes with pedal steel and slide guitar, respectively, threaded through the nebulous air to cut a wide swath for the gorgeous, sleepy melodies. And the band saves its most stunning moment for the final "Out of Sight," a heavenly country-folk lullaby on which Jefferson double-tracks his vocals into a latter-day Everly Brothers. But How I Learned to Stop Worrying is so superb as a general rule that it seems poised to become the sort of ragged, gem-like cult classic that inspired it in the first place. It is a diamond in the rough by design.

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