Antietam

Rope-A-Dope

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An unjustly overlooked piece of mid-'90s indie rock, the final album by the Kentucky-to-New York transplants Antietam has it all: fiery playing (frontwoman Tara Key is one of the great guitarists of her generation), powerful songs, and enough diversity to keep from sounding like one noisy guitar rave-up after another the way that, say, Dinosaur Jr.'s albums often did. Key's guitar playing most often sounds like a post-punk Neil Young in full shred mode, but she's equally adept at pure atmospherics, as on the quieter moments of the near-psychedelic "Pine." If Yo La Tengo (whose Ira Kaplan adds some smoking organ work to the massively powerful opener "Hands Down") were more aggressive and less interested in Velvets-style harmonics, they would sound like Antietam. Unlike previous Antietam albums, where Key handled all the lead vocals, her two bandmates sing a pair of tunes apiece. Drummer Josh Madell is a much better percussionist than he is a singer, but his vocals on "What She Will" and "Leave Home" are atmospheric afterthoughts buried deep in the mix. Bassist Tim Harris has a more pleasant voice, and his lead vocals on "Certain Muse" (along with his distinctive cello touches) help turn the Feelies-like tune into the album's most immediately catchy song. The album's high point, and possibly the best thing Antietam ever did, is the 11-minute closer "Silver Solace," which builds and ebbs with structural grace and contains some of Key's most remarkable singing and soloing. With the grace note of one 1996 single, "Silver Solace" caps Antietam's career; although Harris and Madell would continue as her collaborators, Key would begin her solo career with the next year's Bourbon County.

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