In 2002, the Buzzrats released the ingenious John Train, a record that investigated and confronted the spectral presences that have haunted American music since the Civil War. It was a compelling exercise that decided to use the spirits they found in the cracks to their full advantage. But where does a band go after this kind of exhaustive look into the ether? Inward, that's where. On Wondering Where You Are, the Buzzrats go looking for romance, not in endless love songs, but in the inherent romance in rock & roll. Wondering Where You Are is the sound of a band going under the radar looking for the sound that comes out of the radio late at night (or at least used to). This is easily the most melodically savvy record the Buzzrats have come up with. The production is, for the most part, pillowy and soft; its edges are rounded, but not without teeth. But it is never excessive; it always serves the song. The album roars to life with digitally delayed guitars on "Belief," before falling back as frontman and lyricist Steve Leggett tenderly wanders into the mix as the instruments drop to the background. His protagonist offers advice to a loved one about remaining steadfast in her or his own vision of the truth. "Emotional World," one of the most beautiful songs Leggett has ever penned, follows it. It's a heart-to-heart for someone in trouble with himself or herself. The guitars drift and gently wind around his soothing creaky voice, as percussion shuffles and whispers underneath.
The rootsy early rock sound of the title cut is propped by a faux doo wop chorus that is haunting, not corny. Things do get spooky on "Cool Papa Bell," where dub reggae and ambient effects meet the cough-syrup slowness of Neil Young's Crazy Horse. And "Mingus on the Bandstand" is easily the most inventive thing here. Its elliptical lyric hovers over time and space as the future meets a past that is not fully understood. Out-of-kilter rhythmic passages meet hypnotic ones; acoustic guitars encounter electric ones and fall away or disappear into the night. It's all like this really, a series of songs that poke around the fringes of timeworn rock and pop music, cracking codes and ciphers along the way. The only complaint are that tracks like the shrill "Greaser," with its owl-screech guitar and metal clichés, and "Mongoose," with its Greetings from Asbury Park vibe meeting the rhythmic strut of a Caribbean steel band, are in the middle of the record. They're both overly long, and just don't fit into this warm sonic blanket. Wondering Where You Are is not above engaging nostalgia in a bittersweet way, not as a cheeky insider reference but as the hallmark of memory itself. The deeper the night gets, the more one lets one's emotional guard down, and what flows from those reflections is instructive and honest -- check "If You Haven't Any Hay," with its country-ish creep, and the strolling garage rock of "Under the Carnival Skies" for more proof. Welcome to dreamland.