There aren't a lot of wide open spaces in Detroit, but Michigan's great decaying metropolis is the sort of place that can give a man that high lonesome feeling, and American Mars are a Motor City foursome who have fused the rudiments of roots music with a Big City perspective on busted romance and lives that have taken a wrong turn. After nine years of playing around the Midwest, American Mars issued their first full-length album, Western Sides, and it's the sort of debut that's striking in its confidence, craft, and distinctive musical voice. Dave Feeny's six-string and pedal steel guitars are the heart of this band's approach, giving flesh to a sound that's fiercely evocative of the heartache embodied in Thomas Trimble's subtle, emotive vocals, and for all the country accents the steel brings to the melodies, this band never forces the twang issue, with classic pop, indie rock, and even psychedelia informing these recordings. Occasionally recalling American Music Club's less moody siblings, Western Sides doesn't aim to sound downbeat so much as honest about the long odds of life and love in the industrial Midwest, and the songs are built around hooks that manage the neat trick of creating a world of heartache that you can whistle along with in the car. Feeny, also a veteran recording engineer, produced these sessions, and his studio technique is estimable, but Trimble, bassist Garth Girard, and drummer Charlie Koltak give him great material to work with, and few bands from their neck of the woods have come up with anything this strong for their first full album; Western Sides is richly satisfying stuff that merits repeat listening.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming