No Breath in the Bellows extends Chicago's Pinetop Seven's reputation for cinematic snapshots of Heartland heartbreak, emptiness, and careful vicarious observation. Pinetop Seven manages, if nothing else, to make seven songs feel like an album-length work. Not that the four new cuts and three alternate takes of album tracks overstay their welcome or beat a theme till it's dead and ready for an autopsy. Rather, the portraits Darren Richard, Charles Kim, and Ryan Hembry (with accordionist Tim Peterson) paint here are chock full enough to keep you conjuring their images just long enough to realize there's some intangible, ephemeral connection between the bone-dance marimbas on the opener "Heaven," the dry-land stranded feel of "Drying Out," and the prayerful guitars that give body to the EP closer "Everywhere Below Him." No Breath in the Bellows also gives credence to the notion that Pinetop Seven are as much in league with filmmaker Jim Jarmusch and musicultural icon Tom Waits as any of their contemporaries. The EP seems as unlimited in its instrumental imagination (organ, drum, bass, violin, guitar, and voice are all stretched and chased to the end of their ropes) as it is reverential to its influences (if anyone can lay claim to the indie songwriter's adoption of the marimba as a conjurer of midnight macabre, it's Waits). But the musical pictures they paint (for they often eschew lyrics in favor of atmosphere) are as evocative as Jarmusch's poker-faced hipster portraits. Yes, all that's conjured in a simple seven-song EP. Then again, Pinetop Seven's never been an ordinary outfit.
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AllMusic Review by Chris Handyside